WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill Wednesday that includes thousands of pet projects inserted by lawmakers, even as he unveiled new rules to restrict such so-called earmarks.

At the same time, after Democrats criticized former President George W. Bush's signing statements, Mr. Obama issued one of his own, declaring five provisions in the spending bill to be unconstitutional and nonbinding, including one aimed at preventing punishment of whistleblowers.

Presidents have employed signing statements to reject provisions of a bill without vetoing the entire legislation. Democrats and some Republicans have complained that Mr. Bush abused such statements by declaring that he would ignore congressional intent on more than 1,200 sections of bills, easily a record. Mr. Obama has ordered a review of his predecessor's signing statements and said he would rein in the practice.

"We're having a repeat of what Democrats bitterly complained about under President Bush," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.), who drafted legislation to nullify Mr. Bush's signing statements.

The president said the spending measure should "mark an end to the old way of doing business." His proposals, seconded by the House Democratic leadership, followed days of attacks by Republicans -- and some Democrats -- over the spending for local projects tucked into the bill.

The White House plan would force any earmark aimed at a private company to be subject to competitive bidding. Earmarks would have to be posted in advance on lawmaker Web sites and publicly aired in hearings before being inserted into spending bills.

House Democratic leaders and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey agreed with Mr. Obama's proposed new rules and said any requested earmarks also should be submitted to the appropriate executive-branch agency for a 20-day review of the project to ensure its legality and worth.

But the proposals immediately met with skepticism from spending watchdogs and outright opposition in the Senate. Senate aides said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) saw the proposals -- especially the mandatory executive review -- as too restrictive.

The discord comes as Republicans drub the president and his party for a spending spree that they say will inevitably lead to higher taxes for all while failing to bring the country out of recession. "He's taken hits," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) in an interview. "And Americans around the country are increasingly concerned we're spending all this money and yet we continue to lose jobs and the markets continue to slide."

Even some Democrats have blanched at the president's proposals for a national health-care plan, an ambitious effort to rein in global warming and proposals to boost education spending, to be paid for with tax increases and cuts to sensitive government programs.

With a budget deficit projected at $1.75 trillion this year, the squirming has only intensified as some Democrats talk of a second stimulus plan, even before Mr. Obama's $787 billion economic rescue goes into force. "We have to keep the door open," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said this week.

White House aides said they debated whether the president should sign an omnibus spending bill that includes more than 8,500 pet projects worth $7.7 billion.

White House counselor David Axelrod suggested a veto would send a strong signal that Mr. Obama's Washington really would represent change. But the president decided it wasn't worth adding a fight with his own party onto a plate that is already overly filled.

"We can't have Congress bogged down at this critical juncture in our economic recovery," Mr. Obama said. "But I also view this as a departure point for more far-reaching change."

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, an anti-earmark group, dismissed the significance of the new Obama rules, saying that lawmakers already say their private-sector earmarks are often put up to competitive bidding. They simply draft the legislative language so narrowly that only one company could secure the contract.

He also noted that by exempting nonprofits from such scrutiny, Democrats were creating a loophole. Universities and other nonprofits are often awarded earmarks that are then passed on to private companies that partner with them. "Some of this is just trying to give earmarks the good-housekeeping seal of approval when the same troubling processes will still be in place," Mr. Ellis said.

Obama Outlines Plan to Curb Earmarks - WSJ.com
not sure about the whistleblower protection being axed.. i dont like that. The rest is fine.