Obama Learns Jimmy Carter's Lesson and Signs an Imperfect Omnibus Spending Bill

A veto fight wouldn't have helped Obama, Congress, or the country.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I'm thinking today that somebody at the White House knows their US political history, and that is why President Barack Obama did the right thing yesterday, by signing the $410 billion omnibus spending bill—despite all those pesky earmarks.

Rob and I have noted here how some of the early missteps of the Obama administration reminded us of Jimmy Carter's presidency. In letting the Congress have its portions of pork this week, Audacity showed he may be studying the Carter years too.

After getting elected in 1976, Carter was barely in office before he began attacking the Democratic Congress for wasteful spending. In his first 18 months in office, he enraged congressional leaders by striking a series of water projects from the federal budget.

The water projects were the earmarks of their day. Members of Congress used these dams, reservoirs and irrigation canals to show the Chambers of Commerce, and the Rotary Clubs back home that they were working hard to get federal money for their districts.

"This is motherhood," said one congressional aide.

"In a democracy," vice president Walter Mondale cautioned Carter, "someone's waste is another person's treasure."

But Carter insisted on a showdown with his fellow Democrats. Word of his "hit list" spread across the Hill.

"The concern around the Senate is that you are naive or selfish or stubborn, perhaps all three....that you are hard-headed and, even worse, high-handed," the White House congressional lobbyist told his boss.

Carter would not listen. He refused to negotiate and brought on a long-running battle with his own troops over spending; he vetoed appropriation bills and split the Democratic Party. And the resultant paralysis in Congress helped bring on the Reagan era.

Times change. Maybe conditions are different. But I can't see how a veto fight, fifty days in, with a Democratic Congress, would help Obama, or the country.

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