President George W. Bush signed the appropriations bills earlier this week, but he did so with caveats that should strike fear into the heart of many lobbyists. He warned that earmarks are out of hand. He also repeated something he's said before - that earmarks inserted in the conference committee report rather than the text of the bill may not carry the force of law.
Now, it's impossible to say how many of the nearly 9,000 earmarks in the 2008 appropriations legislation were the result of lobbying, but certainly, the number isn't a small one. Lobbyists work to build support for projects in both houses, and they lobby hard to keep earmarks in the process through the always volatile conference that produces final appropriations legislation. And when the earmark doesn't make it into the House or Senate version, it can sometimes be inserted in conference. The process is hugely volatile, with months of lobbying often coming down to a final few, rushed days, a colossal omnibus spending bill, and a final decision that lobbyists can't influence very much at the end.
The drawbacks to appropriations work -- the tumultuous process and negative press surrounding earmarks -- has encouraged some big firms to pull back from appropriations work. Bush's comments are likely to encourage that. For a Legal Times story on why firms are looking to reduce their reliance on appropriations contracts, click here.