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Obama Must Veto Omnibus Spending Bill

The omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2011, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dropped on his colleagues yesterday, is more than 1,900 pages long, costs more than $1 trillion, and consists of some 6,600 earmarks.

The entire GOP leadership has come out strongly against the omnibus bill — on substance (it’s terribly wasteful and profligate) and process (a lame-duck session of Congress should not be passing legislation of this dimension, which is clearly at odds with what most Americans voted for during the 2010 midterm election). Speaker-designate John Boehner has a very fine idea. He has asked President Obama to veto the bill in the event it secures congressional passage.

If Congress does indeed pass this legislation, Mr. Obama will be extremely reluctant to veto it, given how important it is to those in his party.

On the other hand, Obama himself is on record, both when he campaigned for president and as recently as a month ago, strongly opposing earmarks.

“Earmarks account for 0.5 percent of the total federal budget. There’s no doubt that the system needs reform and there are a lot of screwy things that we end up spending money on, and they need to be eliminated,” Obama said during his third presidential debate with John McCain. “But it’s not going to solve the problem.” [emphasis added]

“We are going to ban all earmarks — the process by which individual members insert pet projects without review,” President-elect Obama promised on January 6, 2009.

And during his November 13 radio address earlier this year, Obama called for an end to the “bad Washington habit” of earmarks. In the president’s words:

I agree with those Republicans and Democratic Member of Congress who’ve recently said that in these challenging days, we can’t afford what are called earmarks. … We can’t afford ‘Bridges to Nowhere.” … Earmarks like these represent a relatively small part of overall federal spending, but when it comes to signaling our commitment to fiscal responsibility, addressing them would have an important impact.

It would be impossible, then, for Mr. Obama to justify signing into law legislation that, based on his previous statements, he ought to find indefensible. If, however, the president reneges on this commitment, as he has on so many previous commitments, then cynicism about him (and politics more generally) will increase and the president will further undermine his public character. That’s why the president better hope that the Democratic-controlled Congress fails in this 11th-hour effort to push through yet one more pernicious piece of legislation.