WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama sent legislation to Congress on Monday that would allow him to force lawmakers to vote on cutting earmarks and wasteful programs from spending bills.
The legislation would award Obama and his successors the ability to take two months or more to scrutinize spending bills that have already been signed into law for pork barrel projects and other dubious programs. He could then send Congress a package of spending cuts for a mandatory up-or-down vote on whether to accept or reject them.
White House budget director Peter Orszag said that while the new presidential power would not be a panacea for the government's spending excesses, it would "add to the arsenal of tools" available to reduce spending.
He said the legislation was crafted to avoid constitutional hurdles. Past efforts "gave the knife to the president" to make the cuts, he said, while the Obama administration's bill would give it back to Congress to make the final decision on cuts.
Under the Constitution, the president has to either sign a bill — forcing him to take the bad along with the good — or veto it. A 1996 law that gave the president the power of a line-item veto for spending bills was struck down by the Supreme Court.
Senate Democrats blocked a proposal like that offered by Obama just three years ago, so his idea would seem like a long shot. But it could pick up traction in the current anti-Washington political environment in which lawmakers are desperate to demonstrate they are tough on spending.
Orszag said lawmakers "are eager to look for tools that will help us to reduce unnecessary spending whenever and wherever possible."
The top two Democrats in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, stopped short of endorsing the president's initiative. And House Minority Leader John Boehner said in a statement that while Republicans are pleased the president was sending the legislation to Congress, "this is no substitute for a real budget that reins in overall federal spending."
House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C., said he would formally introduce the bill this week.
The White House move also comes as Obama's Democratic allies in Congress are trying to pass a tax and spending bill providing $174 billion for programs such as unemployment benefits, aid to state governments and help for doctors facing a big cut in Medicare reimbursements. The Senate is also taking up an almost $60 billion war funding bill, and a vote looms on a plan to add $23 billion to help school districts avoid teacher layoffs.