WASHINGTON (CNN) – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md, insisted Tuesday that Congress, not President Obama, would decide whether to put more limits on earmarks in upcoming spending bills.
Asked about a statement by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Monday that the Obama Administration was formulating guidelines for earmark reform, Hoyer said flatly, "I don't think the White House has the ability to tell us what to do." He paused deliberately and quipped to reporters in the room, "I hope you all got that down."
He added, "It is certainly appropriate for the White House to suggest ways of going forward so that we can have agreement between the White House and ourselves."
Hoyer pointed out that Democrats have cut down the number of earmarks and now require that all requests get posted on the internet. But he conceded "I think there are additional things we can do and consider." He said Congressional leaders already talked to the White House about "concerns it had,” but refused to offer any specifics.
CNN reported Monday that, according to Democratic sources at a White House meeting last week, President Obama urged Democratic leaders to "limit" future earmarks, and in what one official described as a "tense" exchange, the leaders told the President they'll do what they can to continue reform - but that earmarking projects for districts and states is a prerogative of Congress.
Hoyer, who attended the White House meeting, vigorously defended earmark requests Tuesday, calling them “the congressional initiative process.”
"I philosophically believe it would be an undermining of the Article One responsibilities given to the Congress of the United States if it were to abandon its right to add items that it believes are priorities for our country and for the communities we represent as Members of Congress, " Hoyer said.
The Majority Leader dismissed a question from a reporter that the $410 billion spending bill for the rest of this year was becoming an "embarrassment" to President Obama and reiterated Obama's argument that the package is "last year's business."
Hoyer also said that even though then-Senator Barack Obama did not request any earmarks in last year's spending bill, he did request projects for Illinois in prior years he served in the Senate.