Pursuing a path of deficit reduction and government reform, President Obama will tonight in his State of the Union address call for a ban on earmarks and he will propose an overall budget freeze, ABC News has learned.
The proposals come as the president prepares to tackle the deficit and debt and as he faces a House of Representatives in Republican hands, many of whose members include those affiliated with the Tea Party who may be willing to embrace both moves.
The president will propose some new spending in certain areas that address the speech’s theme of “How We Win the Future”: innovation, education and infrastructure. But those increases will be proposed as part of an overall budget freeze, which given the annual rate of growth is often seen in Washington, DC, budgeting as a cut.
The FY 2011 budget was $3.8 trillion. Last year President Obama proposed a three-year hard freeze on non-security discretionary spending, to save $250 billion over the next decade; this would be much broader.
As for earmarks, President Obama has long been critical of the process in which members of Congress insert their pet projects into legislation without having them first go through the normal appropriations process, but Congress has continued to put billions of dollars of such projects in bills that arrive at the president’s desk.
After the midterm elections, which President Obama called a “shellacking,” he cited earmarks as a reason why some voters may have gone for the GOP.
“I’m a strong believer that the earmarking process in Congress isn’t what the American people really want to see when it comes to making tough decisions about how taxpayer dollars are spent,” the president said. “And I, in the rush to get things done, had to sign a bunch of bills that had earmarks in them, which was contrary to what I had talked about. And I think folks look at that and they said, ‘Gosh, this feels like the same partisan squabbling, this seems like the same ways of doing business as happened before.’”
The president said it was his understanding than House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., was pushing a moratorium on earmarks and “that’s something I think we can work on together.”
Presumably, this means a spending freeze for that most sacred of Republican cows, the military.
The reactions to watch for tonight are the Establishment Republicans vs. Tea Party Republicans. Unlike their elite cousins, Tea Party Republicans aren't at all squeamish about freezing - or even cutting - military spending.
Mark Meckler, JennyBeth Martin
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Tea Party Patriots co-founders Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin hold a news conference in Washington on Nov. 3, 2010. Tea party groups say if the government is going to cut spending, the military budget needs to be part of the mix.
That demand is creating hard choices for the newest members of Congress, especially Republicans who owe their elections and solid House majority to the influential grass-roots movement. Cutting defense and canceling weapons could mean deep spending reductions and high marks from tea partiers as the nation wrestles with a $1.3 trillion deficit.
Yet it also could jeopardize thousands of jobs when unemployment is running high. Proponents of the cuts also could face criticism that they're trying to weaken national security in a post-Sept. 11 world.
House Republican leaders specifically exempted defense, homeland security and veterans' programs from spending cuts in their party's "Pledge to America" campaign manifesto last fall. But the House's new majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., has said defense programs could join others on the cutting board.
The defense budget is about $700 billion annually. Few in Congress have been willing to make cuts as U.S. troops fight in Afghanistan and finish the operation in Iraq.