Obama Will Be Smart to Sign the Earmark-Laden Omnibus Spending Bill

The president has enough fights brewing in Congress without picking more.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The huge spending bill left over from the waning days of the Bush administration is expected to pass today. You know the one: It has nearly 9,000 earmarks, but must be passed by Saturday else sections of the government will grind down because of lack of funding.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill, despite having promised as a candidate to eliminate the noxious pet spending projects. And as I've written before, he's correct not to pick an earmark fight right now. Today's newspapers bring fresh examples of why.

Under the headline "Obama's Budget Faces Test Among Party Barons," today's New York Times reports:

What the Democratic barons of Congress liked best about President Obama's audacious budget was his invitation to fill in the details. They have started by erasing some of his.

Note that the story refers to the budget Obama sent up to the Hill for the coming year, not the spending bill with all the earmarks. And those nearly 9,000 earmarks, by the way, each has a member of Congress who thinks it's a pretty damn good idea.

To drive home the point, here's today's Washington Post:

Democratic leaders in Congress did not expect much Republican support as they pressed President Obama's ambitious legislative agenda. But the pushback they are receiving from some of their own has come as an unwelcome surprise.

As the Senate inches closer to approving a $410 billion spending bill, the internal revolt has served as a warning to party leaders pursuing Obama's far-reaching plans for health-care, energy and education reform.

Healthcare ... energy ... education reform—Obama's big ticket items (as opposed to the merely large-ticket stuff he's dealt with so far while trying to pull the economy out of its sinkhole). President Obama has a huge amount on his plate as it is, and is already encountering resistance from the Hill moving it forward.

Why would he now go out of his way to cause ill will among members of Congress on earmarks of all things? He's smart enough not to do that—and the bet here is that he'll make the same calculation in the fall when next year's spending bills start to move through Congress. And few people not named John McCain will particularly care.

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