Bush Signs Domestic Spending Bill but Criticizes Pet Projects

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 27, 2007

WACO, Tex., Dec. 26 -- President Bush signed a $555 billion domestic spending bill into law Wednesday, but not without taking a swipe at Congress for including pet projects that total about $10 billion.

The president lauded the 2008 omnibus spending bill for not requiring any tax increases while also adequately funding U.S. troops in the short term without imposing "arbitrary timelines for withdrawal" from Iraq. But he sharply criticized lawmakers for including nearly 10,000 so-called earmarks, appropriations steered toward favorite projects and organizations. Earmarks have come under increased scrutiny from fiscal conservatives and budget watchdog groups.

"I am disappointed in the way the Congress compiled this legislation, including abandoning the goal I set early this year to reduce the number and cost of earmarks by half," Bush said in a statement. "These projects are not funded through a merit-based process and provide a vehicle for wasteful government spending."

White House spokesman Scott M. Stanzel said the president expects Jim Nussle, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to look for ways to curtail earmark spending where the budget language allows it.

Congressional Democratic leaders have praised the spending bill, which they said features several of their top priorities, including more money for veterans' benefits, college assistance and incentives for reducing carbon emissions. They rejected Bush's criticism, accusing the president as they have done repeatedly of throwing the federal budget into imbalance with war spending and tax cuts.

"This administration is in no position to lecture anyone on fiscal responsibility," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). "Actions speak louder than words. And the fact is, half of all earmarks were directed by the president and his administration."

Bush signed 15 other bills this morning on the way to his Crawford, Tex., ranch, where he will spend a week with family. Among them is a $50 billion measure to protect about 20 million middle- and upper-middle-income households from a tax increase caused by the alternative minimum tax. The AMT was designed in 1969 to target only the very rich but has been projected to affect a broader set of taxpayers. The legislation the president signed will lead to about 4 million households paying the AMT. Because the legislation passed so late in the year, however, 15 million Americans will probably have to wait longer than usual to get their refunds next year.

Bush also signed a seven-year extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program, enacted in 2002 to provide a temporary federal backstop for insurance companies facing claims resulting from acts of terrorism. The program was intended to be temporary until insurers, reeling from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks could figure out how to address the problem. This year's measure represents the program's second reauthorization.

The president was accompanied to Crawford by first lady Laura Bush; her mother, Jenna Welch; daughters Jenna and Barbara; and Henry Hager, Jenna Bush's fiance. Bush has no scheduled appearances and is expected to enjoy a quiet week on his ranch, perhaps with a few bicycle rides, Stanzel said.

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