The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Mrs. Bush, too, Loves the Earmarks

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


It’s funny how sometimes we just disregard the Constitution and the specific powers it gives to each branch of the federal government. I learned as well as many others in the ninth grade that the power of the purse is given to the Congress, so the citizens have some influence and comments on how their tax dollars were going to be spent. Funny how that never really worked out since there are so many projects funded through earmarks.

However, when did this power ever fall into the hands of the President?

Even though the President accentuates the importance for earmark reform in his State of the Union Speech, he has proposed funding for many projects supported by our First Lady. In reality, the earmarked projects proposed by the President are on the First Lady’s own political agenda.

There are the global women leadership projects which the First Lady advocates in areas such as South Africa. After her visit to South Africa in July of 2005, the President said he will tried to maintain $55 million for such African programs that promote women’s power and empowerment; for example, one of these programs is call Mothers and the Mothers-to-be Program.

In addition, the First Lady is very active in promoting the advancement of education in other countries such as Afghanistan while the U.S. Education Department’s budget is seriously cut for the coming fiscal year. Financially strained college students in the United States would lose their Pell Grants while the Women’s Teacher Training Institute will continue to receive grants and funding even after the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council including the First Lady built a $10 million institution. These funding for women’s leadership programs in Afghanistan began to quickly build up after the Taliban lost substantial control; more than 175 programs were created to support Afghan women. With the rebuilding of Afghanistan socially and economically as the main foreign objective on the President and First Lady’s political agenda, there is no prediction onto how much more of our federal tax dollars will be sent overseas.

Besides earmarking for foreign projects, the First Lady also supports projects earmarking for domestic projects such as SAT (Save America’s Treasures). As an Honorary Chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the First Lady helped to collect a total of $29.3 million for this project. This project requires that the federal funding match private sectors’ investment into the project; therefore, half of the $29.3 million was a culmination of appropriate federal funding and earmarks created by the White House and the Congress. (To be exact, there were 378 earmarks created to fund this project)

What seems to be a simple constitutional power given to one branch of the government turned into a complex power vacuum in which everyone including the First Lady who wants to take advantage of it to further her own political agenda. Because it is harder to track down presidential earmarks due to the fact that it does not show on the public budget books but on the supplements instead. In addition, a presidential earmark is very different from a congressional earmark in the way it is filed. The Constitution doesn’t really give the First Lady any explicit spending powers; however, it seems like she knows how to do it pretty well.

-- Charles Tong

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