Their View: Hopefully, they are serious about discipline, reform
Although in 1998 the Supreme Court seemed to have dealt the federal line-item veto a deathblow, this useful budgeting concept appears to be making a comeback under President Bush.
Most state governors have line-item-veto authority - the power to kill individual items in a spending bill that the legislature must then vote to override. The president, however, must veto a bill in its entirety. This might have made sense when Congress passed narrow spending legislation, but increasingly it sends the president monsters like its 2005 omnibus $388 billion spending bill that covered 13 federal departments and more than 1,000 pages.
To get at the earmarks - personal pork projects - that infest these bills, the president must kill the whole thing, undoing months of Congress' work. Most presidents - and Bush especially, who has never vetoed a bill - find this too daunting. It is one reason that earmarks for unauthorized spending now total more than $27 billion annually.
Every president has asked for line-item authority, but only one, Bill Clinton, got it, and then for only one year. The line-item veto was part of the House Republicans' “Contract With America,” and to their credit they overcame their reservations about handing this power to a Democrat.
The Supreme Court, however, found it unconstitutional. While there was talk of rewriting the law to pass constitutional muster, nothing has come of it - yet.
Now Bush, in his State of the Union speech and his new budget, is asking Congress to craft a line-item veto for him as a way of combating out-of-control earmarks and reducing the deficit. By itself, the line-item veto won't solve those problems, but it would go a long way.
Clinton used it 82 times, killing $2 billion worth of projects, an infinitesimal sum measured against, say, this year's projected $423 billion deficit. But like the “broken window” analogy in law enforcement, if you let the little problems go, soon you have big problems. And Clinton did not have the power long enough to discourage pork.
There are creative ways of writing a line-item veto or its equivalent into law, and doing so would show that members of Congress are serious about fiscal discipline and earmark reform. They are serious, aren't they?
- Dale McFeatters,
Scripps Howard News Service