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The Unfortunate Return Of The Line-Item Veto

by @ 10:38 am on May 8, 2010. Filed under Barack Obama, Politicos & Pundits, Politics, U.S. Constitution

Like nearly every President before him, Barack Obama is apparently going to be seeking the authority of the line-item veto:

WASHINGTON — President Obama, in his latest effort to signal fiscal responsibility against the rising debt, plans this month to ask Congress to give him and future presidents greater power to try to delete individual items from spending bills.

In doing so, Mr. Obama will join a long line of his predecessors who have sought either line-item veto power or, after the Supreme Court in 1998 ruled such a veto unconstitutional, some other rescission authority that passes muster. Congress once again is unlikely to be receptive, though growing antidebt sentiment could give the proposal life.

Before Congress breaks for its Memorial Day recess, the White House will send it proposed legislation “to give the president a new tool to reduce unnecessary or wasteful spending,” according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Under existing law, a president can send Congress a request to rescind items in spending bills after a bill is signed into law, but if Congress does not approve the request within 45 working days, the money must be released. And Congress, traditionally protective of its constitutional power of the purse, usually ignores such presidential requests, killing them.

President George W. Bush did not propose any rescissions, according to the Congressional Research Service. Republicans in Congress have challenged Mr. Obama to do so, but he has not. Under Mr. Obama’s proposed legislation to expedite and strengthen the process in a president’s favor, Congress would have to vote on any rescissions.

A president would have 45 working days after signing a spending bill into law to submit to Congress items to rescind, the administration official said, and Congress would have 25 days to act. The House and Senate would have to vote the package up or down, without amendments.

It’s not clear that this version of the Line-Item Veto would pass Constitutional muster given the Supreme Court’s decision in Clinton v. City of New York, which struck down the last attempt to grant a line-item veto power to the President as violating the Presentment Clause of the Constitution. This version of the veto does have the added requirement that Congress act on the President’s line-item choices, but I’m not sure that would be sufficient to get beyond the Constitutional objections. In the end, the only way to give the President a line-item veto is likely to be via Constitutional Amendment, which is unlikely.

The second problem with the line-item veto is that it is quite clearly a gimmick that will do little to reduce federal spending, or the size of government, as George Will pointed out four years ago when the Bush Administration was proposing the same thing:

First, Josh Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, may be exactly wrong when he says the veto would be a “deterrent” because legislators would be reluctant to sponsor spending that was then singled out for a veto. It is at least as likely that, knowing the president can veto line items, legislators might feel even freer to pack them into legislation, thereby earning constituents’ gratitude for at least trying to deliver.

Second, presidents would buy legislators’ support on other large matters in exchange for not vetoing the legislators’ favorite small items. During the two-year life of the line-item veto, Vice President Al Gore promised that Clinton would use the bargaining leverage it gave him to get legislators to increase welfare spending.

The line-item veto’s primary effect might be political, and inimical to a core conservative value. It would aggravate an imbalance in our constitutional system that has been growing for seven decades: the expansion of executive power at the expense of the legislature. This ongoing development has been driven by wars hot and cold, and by today’s, which is without a foreseeable end.

Perhaps most importantly, 60% of the Federal Budget goes toward items that cannot be subject to the line-item veto:


Mandatory spending and interest = $ 2,148,000,000,000 out of $ 3,518,000,000,000 budget.

It’s a gimmick, folks.

One Response to “The Unfortunate Return Of The Line-Item Veto”

  1. Tom Burns says:

    A gimmick probably done at least in part to show fake interest in fiscally conservative ideas, to display how “bipartisan” he is.

    Also, Will pointed to something in the Constitution in a column on the line-item veto:

    “Clause 2: Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before IT become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign IT, but if not he shall return IT, with his Objections to that House in which IT shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider IT.”

    The gist of Will’s argument was that the Constitution referred to the whole bill in question, not bits and pieces of it.

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