With little fanfare, President Obama recently signed the omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2009. This is the bill that has become infamous of late for containing about 9000 earmarks. These are those specific spending measures inserted into bills by members of Congress which are considered 'vital spending' by their recipients and 'pork' by everybody else.
Thus, a president that pledged to go through the budget line by line during the campaign has now made these earmarked projects the law of the land. At least spokesman Robert Gibbs admitted that Obama had not read the entire bill when asked if that was the case.
Many of the administration's surrogates had been making the rounds last week offering the excuse that this bill represented 'old business' as the reason why the president was going to sign it. This excuse is utterly uncompelling coming from a president that ran with 'change' as the explicit theme of his campaign.
After all, weren't Guantanomo Bay and Bush's stem cell funding ban 'old business'? The president didn't seem to think there was any reason to maintain these two items from the previous administration, so why keep this spending bill?
With his budget, health care and energy reform, and other legislative priorities of his own coming up, I can understand why Obama would choose to avoid a fight with Congress over a bill that he could at least partially blame on his predecessor (only partially, though, he did sign it into law).
The fact of the matter is that members of Congress wanted this bill to become law, including all of the earmarks. In some sense that makes this spending bill nothing more than a payoff to the Congress. And now that Obama has delivered on this, he will no doubt expect the Congress to return the favor in the near future.
I am not so naive to think that this state of affairs isn't how things normally work in Washington, but it would be nice if we could drop the pretense and see this bill for what it is. The sooner we in the United States close the rhetoric vs. reality gap, the better.