Although President Obama has repeatedly pledged to ban congressional earmarks, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has 16 such projects, worth $8.5 million, in the bill the Senate is to begin debating today.
WASHINGTON — Although President Obama has repeatedly pledged to ban congressional earmarks, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has 16 such projects, worth $8.5 million, in the bill the Senate is to begin debating today.
The earmarks include money for a Chicago planetarium and a Chicago suburb. Obama has been relentless in criticizing the use of earmarks; in his address to a joint session of Congress last week, he boasted how the economic-stimulus package was “free of earmarks.”
By the end of this week, however, Obama’s likely to sign a separate $410 billion spending plan that keeps most domestic programs funded through Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year. It’s a plan that contains about 9,000 earmarks.
Emanuel, who until Jan. 2 was a congressman from Chicago, dismissed the bill Sunday as “last year’s business.” Most of the measure was written in 2008. It stalled when the Democratic-led Congress and former President Bush disagreed on spending levels.
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Emanuel’s name remains on the bill, and senior adviser Sarah Feinberg explained, “He has no control over it.”
Among the projects with Emanuel’s name attached are $900,000 for equipment at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum; $95,000 for “educational expenses” at the Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview, Ill.; and $950,000 for “street rehabilitation” in the village of Franklin Park, Ill.
Emanuel had partners on some earmarks. He joined members from several states on a $404,000 earmark for Great Lakes Basin program for soil erosion and sediment control. Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis, both Illinois Democrats, also sought the planetarium funds, and Emanuel teamed with Illinois Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky for the Kohl money.
The overall spending bill would provide an 8 percent increase in spending, and while the earmarks represent less than 1 percent of the cost, they’ve become political fodder for budget critics.
About 40 percent of the projects were inserted in the bill by Republicans.
“We are a separate branch of government, and since we’ve been a country, we have had the obligation as a Congress to help direct spending,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “We cannot let spending be done by a bunch of nameless, faceless bureaucrats buried in this town someplace to take care of the needs of the state of Nevada, Washington and New York.”
Earmarks have come under fire because, at times, they’re favors for lobbyists and special interests and are inserted into legislation at the last minute. Identifying the sponsor or the favored interest can be very difficult.
Feinberg, however, noted Emanuel always listed on his House Web site earmarks he requests and how the money would be used.