4:30 p.m. ET: In case you were still wondering what Republicans think of President Obama's earmark reform proposals, the truth can now be told: They don't like it.
At a press conference a few minutes ago, John Boehner said of Obama's plan: "The question I ask is: Where's the beef? Where's the reform? I just don't see it." Instead, Boehner said, "We ought to have an earmark moratorium ... for the remainder of this year" until the two parties can come together and agree on a broader reform package. (Question of the day: What are the chances that will happen? If you answered "none," you win. We also would have accepted "zero.")
12:20 p.m. ET: The earmark announcement has now been made, with Obama calling for new reforms even as he admitted he was signing "an imperfect bill."
Obama's announcement came shortly after House Democratic leaders beat him to the punch by unveiling some earmark reforms of their own. Their proposal, like Obama's, calls for competitive selection or bidding of any earmark that would go to a for-profit entity. How will Republicans react, and will these dual reform plans put the subject of earmarks to rest for awhile? Hill Democrats would very much like to talk about something else now, and hope Obama will too.
8 a.m. ET: President Obama will make "an announcement about earmark reform" later this morning, according to the White House, less than 24 hours after the Senate cleared for his signature a $410 billion omnibus bill packed full of earmarks.
The timing is deliberate, but striking all the same. The effect will be to suggest that Obama is holding his nose to sign the omnibus bill, even though it was written by his own party and his administration made almost no effort to change it during the legislative process. Obama is not new to the subject of earmark reform. Exactly one year ago yesterday, the then-Senator and candidate from Illinois signed on to a proposal to impose a one-year moratorium on earmarks. That went nowhere, and it's unclear whether Obama's new, as-yet-undisclosed plan will have any better prospects, given that most Democratic lawmakers (and, privately, many Republican lawmakers) believe earmarks are a valid and important congressional prerogative.
Obama also needs not to alienate any members of his own party unnecessarily, since, as Reuters writes, the surprisingly difficult path to passage for the omnibus bill does not bode well for the Senate prospects of the president's budget. Susan Collins predicts "big trouble" for the spending blueprint, and Kent Conrad, the Budget Committee chairman, said flat-out Tuesday that the bill doesn't have the votes to pass right now. And the president will certainly need extra political momentum if he wants to move a second stimulus bill, which the Appropriations panel will soon begin drafting.
Speaking of bills that don't yet have the votes to pass, key House and Senate Democrats introduced the Employee Free Choice Act yesterday, formally kicking off a titanic fight over a measure that is organized labor's top priority for the year and the business community's top target. Despite Tom Harkin's assertion that "the support is there" for the bill, it appears to be several votes short of 60 right now, and all Harry Reid would say yesterday about timing was that he hoped the Senate could consider it before the August recess. Add in the fact that Obama appears open to a possible compromise on the measure, and this may not be the quick, clean win labor unions have been hoping for since the day he won the White House with their help.
The Fix reports that the White House will announce Gil Kerlikowske has been chosen as the nation's drug czar today. That fills one personnel opening, even as the administration lost yet another nominee yesterday amid controversy. Charles Freeman withdrew from consideration for chairman of the National Intelligence Council after critics -- led by the blogosphere -- raised questions about his ties to Saudi Arabia and past comments on Israel and China. Freeman did have his defenders too, but they were not enough to overcome opposition from some key members of Congress. The perennial question when a nominee withdraws: Did Team Obama not know about Freeman's background? Or did they know all about it, and figure it wouldn't be a problem? Which is worse?
You can never really shed your past. Just ask David Vitter, who can hardly do anything now without some reference to his "very serious sin" involving prostitutes. On Thursday, Roll Call reports, the Louisiana senator pulled a classic "do you know who I am?" routine at Dulles airport, trying to board an airplane after the door was closed, yelling at an airline employee and then leaving the scene before security could arrive. One would have thought, the newspaper points out, that Vitter "might have learned just a little something from his sex-scandal embarrassment about impulse control."
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March 11, 2009; 8:05 AM ET
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