Bipartisan Budget Passes

[ Posted Thursday, March 12th, 2009 – 16:35 UTC ]

I usually do these "talking points" sorts of things on Friday, but I have been simply stunned this week at the way the media has been covering the passage of the 2009 omnibus budget bill, and of President Obama's signing the bill into law. If I knew nothing about the subject but what I've seen on network news shows (not even cable, mind you, just the "respected" nightly news shows), then I would believe the following about the 2009 budget: (1) most of it -- say a good 70 to 80 percent -- was earmarks, (2) those dastardly Democrats put all the earmarks in, and Republicans fought and fought for fiscal responsibility, but couldn't remove them in the end, because (3) there was no bipartisanship at all in passing this bill, (4) passing this bill in the midst of the flood of other important legislation was really no big deal, happens all the time, and (5) President Obama broke a big campaign pledge he made to veto every earmark and signed the bill anyway, thus disappointing the American public by breaking his word.

None of these things, I must point out, is even remotely true. But that's the spin that I get from Brian Williams and Katie Couric on a nightly basis. I can just imagine what the hotheads over on the cable channels are saying about it.

Now, this really isn't that big a deal. The budget just passed was due last October, and the big battle is going to be fought over President Obama's 2010 budget (stay tuned...). In six months, nobody's even going to remember this budget at all. I fully realize all of that. It will, at most, become nothing more than one bullet point in the growing list of what Obama has been able to accomplish at blinding speed in Washington.

But still, it's annoying. So I've written out what some enterprising Democrat should really say when asked some inane question about earmarks. Because I really think it's time to inject some truth into this debate. Actually, "debate" isn't even a fair term -- "media feeding frenzy" is more apt. The only one I've seen so far who has attempted to do so is House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who wrote an op-ed in USA Today making a good point or two. But even he missed out on a big one -- this bill passed with a fair degree of bipartisan support, the first major bill to do so.

So, any Democrat who is just as sick of the spin as I am should feel free to use some version of the following to lay this ridiculous right-wing noise to rest once and for all.


[In response to just about any stupid question about the budget or earmarks:]

I'm glad you asked me about the 2009 omnibus budget bill Congress just passed and the president just signed into law. Because the media seems to be missing the entire point of this debate. You people have focused in on less than two percent of the bill, and completely ignored both the other 98 percent of it, and also how it got through Congress. It's like buying a cup of coffee for a dollar and then absolutely freaking out about two pennies in the sales tax. If the media continues to do nothing but parrot the current Republican talking points without even remembering what you guys were complaining about two weeks ago, then you run the risk of people trusting you about as much as they trust the Republican Party right now.

Remember just a few weeks ago? You hyped the "failure" of Obama's bipartisan outreach to the skies. Obama "only got three votes out of over 200 Republicans in Congress." Remember when you guys were saying this on a nightly basis -- just a few weeks ago?!?

So where was the reporting on the improvement of those numbers with the votes on the 2009 budget bill? Where were the stories on the nightly news shows praising Obama for getting about a tenth of Republican House members to vote for the 2009 budget, and almost one in five Republican senators? It's pretty hard to call this anything other than "bipartisan," especially since we lost a few of our own Democrats on the votes as well. Where were the headlines screaming "bipartisan budget passes!" Where were the followup stories to your "sky is falling" theme from a few weeks ago, telling the public that Obama was making definite progress in reaching out to Republicans, and Republicans were responding to do what is best for the country rather than blindly following partisan demands? I must have missed those stories, since you obviously are all such good journalists that you followed up on your previous "Obama is a failure" stories with some "Obama makes bipartisan progress" stories, right?

Instead, what you've been talking about all week has been the evil of "earmarks." Coincidentally, this was also the Republican talking point of the week. Somehow, the media has missed a very big story which happened last November -- John McCain lost. John McCain was the one who, on the campaign trail, promised he would veto every earmark. It was a big campaign promise, I'm sure you remember it. But, here's the key point you have apparently forgotten -- John McCain said it, not Barack Obama. President Obama promised to reform the earmark process, and that is just what he is going to do. When Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, they immediately passed some earmark reforms to combat the anonymous abuse of such. We are passing more reforms of the earmark process as I speak. But I don't know where you got the idea that Obama was going to veto every earmark, because that was actually the other guy in the race.

And for all the Republicans who are rending their garments and beating their chests about earmarks, I have a perfect solution to the problem. How about we pass a law which states that if you don't vote for the final budget, then all your earmarks get automatically removed from that budget? I saw recently that of the 35 senators who voted against the 2009 budget, 28 of them had earmarks passed within that very same budget. And then some of them had the temerity to give interviews to the media where they denounced Obama for signing a budget with their very own earmarks in it, and (even more astonishingly) because it had too many earmarks in it. If this isn't the definition of "hypocrisy" then I don't know what is. Here is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, on the budget: "the bill costs far too much for a government that should be watching every dime." Well, Senator McConnell, why are you complaining about "dimes," when you yourself have a whopping $51 million of earmarks in the bill with your fingerprints on them? Senator Inhofe said he "refused to go along with big government spending or big government solutions." He should know something about "big government solutions" since he got more than any other senator who voted against the bill, topping even the Minority Leader at $53 million in earmarks.

So, since these senators seem to think the bill is too big, let's begin by cutting their earmarks. I assume they would support this measure, since they are obviously begging someone else for help with their problem of earmark spending.

And to all you in the media, I'd like to offer a piece of advice. You are becoming more and more out of touch with the American people. The people who elected Obama support what he is trying to do. Their priorities are clear -- to give Obama the time to pass his agenda, and time to see whether it worked or not. They are not interested right now in endless stories that do nothing but echo the discredited economic theories of a political party that has been absolutely rejected by the voters in the last two elections. They are much more interested in hearing the point of view of the people they did vote into the majority. How about some rational discussion by a few progressives on the airwaves instead of the endless stream of Republican talking points? I bet if you went out into the country and conducted a poll which asked what Washington's priorities should be right now, "reforming earmarks" wouldn't even make the top ten. You should pay a little more attention to the issues that do make that top ten instead, or else you are in danger of losing your audience. Because their priorities are clearly not yours.

The American public was offered a clear choice between absolutism on earmarks and the bigger picture of getting America back on the right track in last year's election. The people made a choice. You apparently didn't get the memo. The choice was that we would concentrate on the 98 percent of the issues in Washington, and not worry so much about the two percent issues for now. The country is in a mess after the last eight years, and the public is focused on the big picture and the long view right now, in order to get our country headed the right way again. That is what Obama promised to do, that is what he is doing, and that is why people are still strongly supporting him. And that is why people in the media really need to get out of the echo chamber of Washington a lot more than they have. Instead of convincing yourselves that you somehow speak for the middle class or the average American, why don't you get out there and learn what the middle class and the average American is most concerned about? I would be willing to bet good money that right now it isn't "we want the media to reflect the most partisan arguments by Republicans."

The headlines of the past week should have been: "Budget passes with bipartisan support," or maybe: "Earmarks kept down to only 2% of total 2009 budget." Or perhaps: "Congress continues to pass important legislation at a record pace," or: "Obama achieves more in two months than most presidents achieve in their whole term." Until Republicans as a group forswear all earmarks forever, or at the very least swear that if they aren't going to vote for a bill that they will abstain from adding earmarks to it, then all I see is making some political hay in a hypocritical fashion, and bamboozling the media to breathlessly cover it as if it were some sort of important story.


[Note: The vote for the bill, H.R.1105, was 245-178 in the House (with 16 Republicans voting for it), and 62-35 in the Senate (with eight Republicans voting for it). Click on the numbers to see the exact vote count by member.]


-- Chris Weigant


6 Comments on “Bipartisan Budget Passes”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    While I am certain that earmarks do have legitimate uses, the current process is simply WAY to easy to abuse.

    I agree with CW...

    Get rid of earmarks completely and create a new system that does not beg for abuse...

    I am tired of paying for some Congress Critter's pool or another Congress Critter's special gym..


  2. [2] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I think there needs to be oversight to avoid abuse of the earmark system. However, currently it seems to be the only way to get funding for important local projects and if a few "swimming pools" make it in that is okay for now. But I think the Obama Administration and OMB need to start working on some new policies and procedures to make the whole budget process more efficient.


  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Unfortunately, nothing stuns me about the media anymore. I have become far too accustomed to their rampant incompetence and ineptitude.

    I couldn't tell you what the hotheads on cable are saying about the budget as I don't watch much anymore...except for Fareed Zakaria on CNN every Sunday, without fail. But, it would be a very safe bet that they are saying nothing about it...or something that betrays their stupidity.

    True, is just last years budget but it's the principle of the matter that you do such a great job of shining the spotlight on. If it wasn't for you, and precious few others, my faith in the media and blogsphere would be at zero and heading backwards.

    That was one fine rant on the budget and earmarks and I guess I can only dream that there are Democrats and even Republicans who are capable of reciting anything that remotely resembles what you have so clearly stated.

    Chris, you should be on the Sunday shows - if these people were really interested in providing their collective audience with quality material, you most surely would be!

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    "and if a few "swimming pools" make it in that is okay for now."

    Would you say the same thing if it was a Republican's "swimming pool" that made it in??


  5. [5] 
    LewDan wrote:

    Great rant Chris! I agree with every word. But I don't share you concern (or apparent frustration.) I find the situation humorous.

    Consider WHY the "Big Lie" tactic works. Just repeating a lie doesn't convince people. Its when RESPECTED individuals, institutions or authorities lie big that people can be convinced, because THOSE people telling some outrageous lie seems unlikely to the uninformed.

    But the country currently DOESN'T respect Congress, federal authorities, the media or EITHER Party very much. People are mostly distrustful and skeptical. Trying "The Big Lie" now only makes one look pathological.

    Ironically, President Obama is the only one currently in a position to pull a Big Lie off. Those using it against him aren't hurting HIM, they're hurting THEMSELVES.

    Eventually they'll figure that out -- maybe... Until then, no need to get upset, just pass the popcorn sit back and enjoy the sheer spectacle of those committing suicide by attacking an out of reach opponent with poisoned, razor edged boomerangs!

    AND TO ALL -- regarding earmarks...

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with earmarks. You CAN'T do away with them. Our representatives are supposed to represent us. They HAVE to be able to "earmark" funds for us.

    The problem is the lack of accountability -- WE haven't been holding them accountable.

    WE haven't been demanding transparency. WE haven't been punishing fraud and abuse. Trying to address accountability through process reform in and of itself won't have much impact -- You're going to craft a rule that abusers must fall on their sword--? Its OUR job to run them through!

    The last eight years were such a disaster that the last two election cycles are the first time a Party has actually been held accountable by the electorate in my lifetime! Now, our new found power may be going to our heads -- I certainly hope so anyway.

    The "special interests" have clout because they're dollars influence elections. But WE do the electing. If WE start holding them accountable -- if the politicians are more afraid of US than the special interests... The special interests would have little clout.

    Its our money. If we don't want it wasted we can stop them from wasting it -- simple as that.

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    Its our money. If we don't want it wasted we can stop them from wasting it — simple as that.

    That was the idea behind the administrations plan to have all bills and such posted publicly for at least 48 hours prior to it being sent thru the House & Senate to the President's desk.

    We see how well THAT has worked out....

    I ask again....

    Where is the change??


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