March 11, 2009
Obama on Earmarks
Transcript of President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Earmark Reform
I ran for President pledging to change the way business is done in Washington and build a government that works for the people by opening it up to the people. That means restoring responsibility, transparency, and accountability to the actions government takes. And working with the Congress over my first fifty days in office, we’ve made important progress toward that end.
Working together, we passed an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that is already putting people back to work doing the work Americans need done. And we did it without the customary Congressional earmarks — the practice by which individual legislators insert projects of their choosing. We are implementing the Recovery Act with an unprecedented level of aggressive oversight and transparency, including a website — Recovery.gov — that allows every American to see how their tax dollars are spent and report on cases where the system is breaking down.
I signed a directive that dramatically reforms our broken system of government contracting, reining in waste, abuse and inefficiency; saving the American taxpayer up to $40 billion each year in the process.
And I have laid out plans for a budget that begins to restore fiscal discipline so we can bring down the $1.3 trillion budget deficit we inherited and pave the way for our long-term prosperity. For the first time in many years, we’ve produced an honest budget that makes the hard choices required to cut our deficit in half by the end of my first term in office.
Yesterday, Congress sent me the final part of last year’s budget; a piece of legislation that rolls nine bills required to keep the government running into one — a piece of legislation that addresses the immediate concerns of the American people by making needed investments in line with our urgent national priorities.
That is what nearly 99 percent of this legislation does — the nearly 99 percent you probably haven’t heard much about.
What you likely have heard about is that this bill does include earmarks. Now, let me be clear: Done right, earmarks give legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their district, and that’s why I have opposed their outright elimination. I also find it ironic that some of those who railed the loudest against this bill because of earmarks actually inserted earmarks of their own — and will tout them in their own states and districts.
But the fact is that on occasion, earmarks have been used as a vehicle for waste, fraud, and abuse. Projects have been inserted at the eleventh hour, without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agendas of a given legislator, rather than the public interest. This practice hit its peak in the middle of this decade, when the number of earmarks had ballooned to more than 16,000, and played a part in a series of corruption cases.
In 2007, the new Democratic leadership in Congress began to address