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Opinion: Bring Back the Line Item Veto!

Friday, December 02, 2011 - 11:48 AM

Most states give their governors the power that President Clinton had from 1996 through 1998, where he could personally pick out certain parts of spending bills for him to veto, rather than vetoing or accepting entire packages of legislation.

This 'line-item veto' was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and George W. Bush failed in an attempt to bring a weakened version of it back eight years later. Given our fiscal difficulties, this issue has been tossed around since Bush's failure, and now a bipartisan duo from the House Budget Committee has come up with a potential workaround.

The Expedited Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act would give the president the power to peel some spending items from already passed bills, sending them back to Congress for an up or down vote. This effort to trim discretionary spending is a very promising development, and a balanced response to the problem the Supreme Court had with the line-item veto, making sure the president can't sidestep congressional constitutional control over passage of legislation.

From the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

The Expedited Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act would allow the president to submit discretionary spending items to Congress to cancel after spending bills have been passed. If brought to the floor, these cancellations would get an up-or-down vote in Congress. If they are enacted, discretionary spending caps would be adjusted downward, ensuring that all savings go to deficit reduction.

This legislation is very similar to the Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act, which was introduced in both chambers earlier this year by Sens. Carper (D-DE) and McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Van Hollen. CRFB president Maya MacGuineas also testified on the Act in March, saying that "giving the [resident a more central role could increase accountability and serve as a deterrent to Members for adding low-priority spending that is likely to be included in a presidential rescissions package." She also recommended broadening the scope to mandatory spending and tax expenditures where applicable, something that could also be applied to the new bill.

MacGuineas is spot on here, in that this makes it much harder for Obama to stay out of the fray in Congress, as has done on most legislative matters throughout his presidency (with some notable exceptions, like health care reform). I also share her sentiment that the bill would be better if it were applied to more than merely discretionary spending.

If this passes, it will be interesting to see how it might effect the horse trading that goes on behind the scenes. If the president has the ability to peel out segments of legislation that certain legislators slipped into the bill in exchange for their vote. Hopefully it would lead to more compromise on the core portions of bills, but I could see how it might lead to a bit more stagnation, if on-the-fence votes couldn't be 'bought' with line items.

Regardless, anything that would potentially help trim congressional spending is something we should support. There are no silver bullets, and this is certainly something that'll only work in the margins, but these margins are counted in billions of dollars. If this passes, and passes constitutional muster, we'll really be able to see how serious presidents are about spending.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a former nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.

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