President Bush signs legislation in 2007.
President Bush signs legislation in 2007. - 
Listen To The Story


TESS VIGELAND: Remember the 9,000 earmarks in the spending bill the President signed last month? Well there are rumblings in Washington today that he wants another crack at them. Here's how insiders think it would go. The President would issue an executive order to eliminate the earmarks, and then send the money elsewhere. Something popular like bridge repair or children's health care. But can he do it?

Jeremy Hobson has that story from Washington.

JEREMY HOBSON: The short answer is, for most earmarks, yes, he can. The reason is right in his last State of the Union address.

PRESIDENT BUSH: You didn't vote them into law. I didn't sign them into law.

That's true. Most earmarks are in what's called a "conference report." It's not actually part of the bill that passed, says James Thurber, a constitutional scholar at American University.

JAMES THURBER: The executive branch does not have to go along with what is stated in the conference report. The conference report of course puts detail on what the House and the Senate agree to. It's not actually part of the law.

So why don't appropriators make all earmarks law? Well it takes longer for one, and lawmakers assume federal agencies wouldn't dare ignore earmarks and upset the very people who control the purse strings. Of course the President would be going up against more than just Congressional Democrats if he removed all the earmarks.

STEVE ELLIS: Earmarks are a bipartisan affliction. There are members of both parties that are very quick to feed at the trough.

Steve Ellis is with the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. He says besides a few budget hawks in Congress, the President would face overwhelming bipartisan opposition, but in the face of mounting economic concerns across the board . . .

ELLIS: It would really resonate well with the public and would go a little ways to restoring some of the fiscal responsibility mantle that the President has shredded over his previous six years.

In other words, if he does do it, it's all about legacy.

In Washington, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.

Follow Jeremy Hobson at @jeremyhobson