Obama Announces Guidelines to Limit Lobbyists' Influence on Stimulus Effort

With states eager to spend, President Barack Obama announced new guidelines Friday limiting the role lobbyists can play in determining how $787 billion in economic stimulus money will be used. Video by AP
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 20, 2009; 6:06 PM

President Obama today announced "unprecedented restrictions" aimed at deterring lobbyists from influencing projects under a massive economic stimulus plan and vowed that recovery efforts will not become "an excuse for waste and abuse."

Pledging to create "a new culture of accountability" with the $787 billion stimulus package, Obama told a gathering of state lawmakers that his administration "will do everything in our power" to prevent taxpayer dollars from slipping through the cracks and being diverted from projects that create jobs. To set an example, he said, he rejected a recent proposal to use funds under the stimulus plan, officially called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to modernize old electrical and heating systems in the East Wing of the White House.

"This is a much-needed project; it is long overdue, and I hope Congress funds it in the future," Obama told the National Conference of State Legislatures in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. "But because this request does not meet the high standards I have set -- because it will not create many jobs or advance our recovery -- it will not be funded under the Recovery Act."

After addressing the state lawmakers, Obama met with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) to discuss transportation infrastructure.

Obama announced the accountability efforts amid apprehensions about larger federal deficit for this year and next year than previously forecast. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office today predicted that enactment of Obama's budget proposals would result in a $1.8 trillion deficit for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 and a $1.4 trillion deficit for fiscal 2010. In January, the CBO estimated this year's deficit at nearly $1.2 trillion and pegged next year's at $703 billion, but that was before Congress passed the $787 billion stimulus package last month. In budget figures released three weeks ago, the Obama administration projected deficits of $1.75 trillion for 2009 and $1.17 trillion for 2010.

The new numbers pose a potential risk for Obama in his efforts to persuade Congress to pass his $3.55 trillion budget proposal for 2010.

Obama defended that budget in his remarks to state lawmakers today, telling them his proposal "makes hard choices about where to save and where to spend." Because of a $1.2 trillion deficit inherited from the Bush administration and the cost of the current financial crisis, he said, "we are having to go through our books line by line, page by page, so that we can cut our deficit in half by the end of my first term and reduce it by $2 trillion over the next decade."

However, he reiterated his pledge to preserve spending "that will lead to real growth and prosperity," vowing to maintain his commitments to comprehensive health care reform, clean-energy programs and education.

In implementing the Recovery Act, Obama said, he is issuing a directive today that guides federal agencies on "what does and what does not constitute an acceptable use of taxpayer money."

He told the lawmakers: "Decisions about how Recovery Act dollars are spent will be based on the merits. . . . They will not be made as a way of doing favors for lobbyists. Any lobbyists who want to talk with a member of my administration about a particular Recovery Act project will have to submit their thoughts in writing, and we will post it on the Internet for all to see."

He said these were "unprecedented restrictions that will help ensure that lobbyists don't stand in the way of our recovery."

Obama said the stimulus plan "cannot and will not be an excuse for waste and abuse." Rather, projects will be judged on whether they jump-start job creation and promote lasting prosperity, he said, citing as examples initiatives that make health care more affordable and rebuild crumbling roads and bridges.

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