It’s extremely common for members of Congress, from both parties, to send letters to executive-branch agencies, seeking funding for one project or another. It’s generally considered a shortcut around earmarks — lawmakers don’t put the requests in the bill, but they press the administration afterwards.
These letters from the Hill are hardly ever seen by the public; they’re generally just considered bureaucratic, behind-the-scenes correspondence. The White House, however, is reportedly weighing a new “name and shame” strategy.
In a move that could escalate hostilities with Congress, President Obama may be planning to use his executive authority to publicize special funding requests that lawmakers make for pet projects.
A memo that the White House has floated on Capitol Hill would require executive branch agencies to make public any letter from a member of Congress seeking special consideration for any project or organization vying for government funding. National Journal obtained a draft copy of the executive memo.
As the White House sees it, the move would address the earmark work-around, while promoting government transparency. It would also, in theory, lead to better spending decisions — money would go to projects based on merit, not which congressional offices lobbied the most effectively.
But what I like about the idea is promoting what those letters usually say. For all the Republican rhetoric about public spending failing to create jobs, these letters from GOP offices invariably argue that money for their preferred projects would boost the economy in their state and/or district. Publicizing the special funding requests would help prove that Republican lawmakers don’t believe their own talking points when it comes to the connection between government investments and jobs.
That said, Congress clearly won’t appreciate the move, if the White House goes through with it. Can the animosity between the two institutions manage to get worse? We may soon find out.