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Do Obama, GOP leaders see eye-to-eye on earmarks?

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama and House GOP leaders may actually have found something to agree on: Eliminating congressional earmarks from the federal budget.

They represent less than 1 percent of federal spending, but they have come to symbolize Washington's wasteful ways. When huge spending bills are working their way through Congress, legislators often tuck in a provision, known as an earmark, that requires a government agency to fund a particular local project, even when the agency officials think the money could be better spent elsewhere.

In his radio address Saturday, Obama said that curtailing or eliminating earmarks would be a first step toward restoring fiscal responsibility.

"I agree with those Republican and Democratic members of Congress who've recently said that, in these challenging days, we can't afford" them Obama said.

On Friday, the top two House Republicans said they planned to hold a vote in the Republican conference to call for "an immediate ban on earmarks" in the new Congress.

"Earmarks have become a symbol of a dysfunctional Congress and serve as a fuel line for the culture of spending that has dominated Washington for too long," said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the incoming House speaker, and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who will be majority whip.

"We welcome President Obama's remarks on earmark reform, and we call upon him to urge Congressional Democrats to vote on a similar measure next week."

But it is not clear how many Republicans on Capitol Hill will agree on eliminating earmarks in the end.

In the Senate, Republican Jim DeMint of South Carolina has also called for a ban on earmarks, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has questioned the idea now that the GOP has taken control of the House.

Ending earmarks would give the Obama administration a "blank check" on deciding where to spend federal money, McConnell said recently.

In the past, lawmakers have defended earmarks by arguing that elected officials, rather than bureaucrats, should decide where public money is spent.

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