Using a springboard provided by a group of anti-spendthrifts, OMB Director Portman reiterated the Bush administration’s plea today for action this year on a stalled bill to help slam the brakes on earmarks and pork projects in appropriations bills. In a briefing at the National Press Club, Portman said he was confident that the Senate would pass a revamped version of the presidential line-item veto if it could be sprung to the floor. But he acknowledged that backroom “holds” on the bill had slowed its progress and perhaps endangered its passage before Congress adjourns for this year. President Bush issued a strong endorsement Tuesday of the legislation, which has passed the House by a comfortable margin with bipartisan support. An earlier version of such legislation was enacted in the late 1990s and helped former President Clinton strike about $2 billion worth of questionable projects from spending bills, but the law later was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as an executive incursion on Congress’ power of the purse.
This time around, the House-passed bill tries to skirt the constitutional issue by setting up an enhanced, fast-track rescission process that would enable the president simply to redline pork projects — without actually removing them — in a spending bill and send it back to Congress for reconsideration. Congress would have 14 legislative days to either reject or approve the redlined items by a simple majority vote of both houses. In the House, Portman said, noting the bipartisan vote for the bill, “It was viewed as a good, common-sense idea. It really should be a non-partisan issue. I think we’d have a good bipartisan vote in the Senate if we could just get it to the floor.” In the upper chamber, the proposal has drawn some measure of bipartisan support by co-sponsors Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill. But Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., have placed holds on the legislation to prevent its timely movement to the floor. Portman said he believes “90 percent of [Senate] Republicans and a lot of Democrats” would vote for the bill on the floor, suggesting that such broad backing, with continued prodding by the White House, could dislodge it during a lame-duck session after the midterm elections.
With Congress winding down this week for the re-election season, about the only chance for the legislation would come in a post-election session. Portman said he thinks “we have a shot then” to win Senate approval. But other observers are not so sure. David Williams of Citizens Against Government Waste said prospects for the bill appear dim this year, despite “some momentum we have” from the House’s approval. In addition to CAGW, the news briefing today was sponsored by the National Taxpayers Union, Taxpayers for Common Sense, American Conservative Union, and Freedom Works — all lobbies that have long lamented the soaring spending and borrowing of the federal government. CAGW’s “Pig Book” for 2006 denotes about 9,963 “pork projects costing a record $29 billion” in the 13 appropriations bill. Williams pointed to several boxes containing 23,000 petitions supporting the bill that the group has collected from voters, which he said would be delivered today to the office of Senate Majority Leader Frist.