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.
A White House spokesman declined to comment, except to say he did not believe the document would be coming next week.
The threat to name and shame would potentially cut off another avenue members of Congress have for influencing government spending in their own back yards. It comes at a time that Obama is ratcheting up his campaign rhetoric against Congress, which he blames for blocking his efforts to stimulate the economy, on the eve of his 2012 reelection effort.
In the draft language, the administration couches the move as an extension of its efforts to eliminate congressional earmarks and promote government openness and accountability.
"Earmarks written into law or otherwise referenced in legislative materials are not the only threat to merit-based and competitive criteria for the use of government funds," the draft says. "Too often, federal agencies are pressured informally to show special favor to certain parties or interests in the course of agency decision-making concerning federal projects, programs, contracts, and grants.
"According to some reports, such pressures have increased over the past year," the draft memo adds. "Like legislated earmarks, these pressures on agency decision-making also undermine the neutral application of merit-based and competitive criteria for the allocation of federal resources."
Aides on Capitol Hill said privately the proposed new ruling would shed light on what has become a workaround for the earmark ban. Instead of directly putting earmarks into legislation, members of Congress have written to executive branch agencies to request special consideration for a group or a project that is seeking federal funding.
Such a decision by the White House could cause embarrassment for members who say they do not request earmarks, but who have written to executive branch agencies seeking special consideration for funding in their districts.
Other aides worried the new rules will represent a further consolidation of power within the executive branch. The ban on earmarks has already given executive branch departments more freedom to create their budgets; further limiting member influence on those budgets would only move power farther away from the Capitol.
The proposed memo will build on an executive order that former President George W. Bush issued in January 2008, which banned federal agencies from accepting funding requests from members of Congress unless those requests were specifically included in legislative texts. That executive order drew fire from Capitol Hill and lobbying agencies, which said the White House was robbing Congress of its right to set spending priorities.