WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration isn't shying away from the president's threat to veto any piece of legislation that includes earmarks, despite harsh words for the pledge from Senate leadership in his own party.
Asked on Thursday whether the president needed to have a "come to Jesus" moment with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after Reid told Obama to "back off" his anti-earmark crusade, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs showed no desire for reconciliation.
"I don't know who will be Jesus," he joked. He added:
Again, not to be flippant or funny, but go back to the original answer: The president was clear on this, we are going to make some very, very tough decision as the president talked about in his budget," he added. "We are going to make decisions that cut programs that Democrats and Republicans alike would both say are important. But we are doing that because we know right now the government spends far, far more than it takes in. And that can't continue. So I don't why, or how you can ask, different agencies and different places to undertake an exercise that those on Capital Hill are unwilling to take themselves. That is what animated the presidents decision to include not just an end for earmarks but a specific pledge that if they show up in that legislation he will veto it and he will send it back. And he said that after the election ... and I take him at his word.
The line in the sand on earmarks does, as Gibb notes, fit into a posture the president has offered for several months -- though the veto threat unveiled during the State of the Union is a new wrinkle. In that regard, the friction between Obama and Reid shouldn't be considered all that unexpected. The fault line in the debate over earmarks should, fundamentally, be between governing branches, not political parties.
And yet, during Thursday's briefing it was hard not to notice that Gibbs was adopting a fundamentally Republican frame of the issue, at one point criticizing the omnibus appropriations bill that Democratic lawmakers had spent months crafting.
"There is a reason why the piece of legislation that was contemplated at the end of last year never made it, because I think the days of those types of things have passed us by," he said.