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Obama signals support of Janesville idea

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 30, 2010
— Will the road to reforming the free-spending ways of Congress lead through Janesville?

In his State of the Union address Wednesday, President Obama called for action on congressional earmarking.


The two members of Congress who are Janesville natives have been proposing for many months a way to rein in wasteful earmark spending.


Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., call their idea the Janesville Line-Item Veto.


Ryan was among a group of Republican leaders that met with Obama on Friday, and Ryan took the opportunity to broach the idea.


Earmarking is when a member of Congress inserts a spending item into a bill, often unrelated to the purpose of the main bill. Earmarks typically are attached without debate or review.


Earmarks often are cited as the source of wasteful spending on Congress members’ pet projects.


According to a transcript of their remarks Friday, Ryan and Obama disagreed on Obama’s approach to freezing government spending, with Ryan wanting more action sooner and Obama saying the economy will be too fragile to handle a freeze until next year.


As for the line-item veto, “you’ve also said that you want to take a scalpel to the budget and go through it line by line. We want to give you that scalpel,” Ryan said, referring to the line-item veto.


“The problem is, we can’t even get a vote on the proposal,” Ryan said.


Ryan did not say who was responsible for holding up a vote in the Democratic-controlled House.


“I think that this is an area where we can have a serious conversation,” Obama responded. “I know it is a bipartisan proposal by you and Russ Feingold.


“I don’t like being held up with big bills that have stuff in them that are wasteful but I’ve got to sign because it’s a defense authorization bill and I’ve got to make sure that our troops are getting the funding that they need,” Obama continued.


“I’d like to walk you through it, because we have a version we think is constitutional,” Ryan said, alluding to the previous line-item veto that President Bill Clinton used before the Supreme Court struck it down.


“Let me take a look at it,” Obama responded.


With a Janesville Line-Item Veto, a president could pull earmarks from a bill and send them back to Congress for a vote.


If either chamber voted against an earmark by a simple majority, it would not be enacted. The bill limits the number of rescission requests a president could make.


Feingold issued a statement afterward, calling the proposal “a perfect example of Democrats and Republicans working together in the best interests of the taxpayers. Support from President Obama for this proposal would be an important step toward ending earmark abuses.”


Earmarking, by the way, has brought millions of dollars to support local programs and institutions. Recent examples include earmarks by Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., which have brought several million dollars to Blackhawk Technical College to retrain displaced workers.



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