July 23, 2002
Line Item Veto thoughts

An entry (and the subsequent comments) at Live from the World Trade Center started some thoughts about the failed Line Item Veto provision of the 1994 "Contract With America". If you recall, the measure to give the president Line-Item Veto power was overturned by a federal judge, and the ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court as a violation of the "Separation of Powers" as laid out in the Constitution.

In any case, one of the comments pointed out that both parties have shown themselves utterly incapable of controlling spending. I agree, but I do not believe that this was always the case. When the GOP-controlled congress passed the line-item veto (largely along party lines; most of the Democrats opposed it), a DEMOCRATIC president was in the White House. There was the very real possibility that Clinton could have vetoed only the Republican Party's pork projects, and the GOP (which lacked a two-thirds majority) would not be able to override the vetoes. This indicates, to me at least, the reformist instincts of the new Republican majority of the 104th congress. Sadly, since then the Republicans in congress have discovered the joys of budget-bloat, and have shown that they can spend just as quickly as their counterparts in the Democratic Party.

With the demise of the line-item veto (and the failure to pass the Balanced Budget Amendment (by one vote—courtesy of turncoat Mark Hatfield), there is no official method of eliminating pork from the budgets. Further, since congress is fond of passing huge omnibus spending bills, it is impossible to read through them to identify pork in a timely fashion. Bush had stated that he was opposed to pork (more so than most politicians; he campaigned against it), but has made little effort to rein it in. The task could be made easier by requiring congress to pass spending bills for each department or agency, which would facilitate a quick scan. Bush could identify each item he wants removed, and veto the bill (and continue vetoing) until the offending items are eliminated. This is not a perfect solution, as he will not be able to remove *all* of the pork (too much trimming will create a majority that will override a veto), but it is a start. Further, this will work regardless of which party is in power in the White House or in congress; it is a non-partisan, constitutionally sound alternative to the line-item veto.

Any comments on this would be welcome, especially from those who are lawyers or constitutional scholars; I am neither, and my proposal may be off-base.

posted on July 23, 2002 09:54 PM


I don't think you appreciate how many bills you'd need to pass under your scenario. Congress would need to be in session about 74,382 days per year.

posted by Christopher Kanis on July 24, 2002 12:37 AM

I probably *have* underestimated the number of bills that would need to be passed (part of the problem), but keeping the legislators in session (nobody leaves until an acceptable bill is passed) would eliminate a lot of the shenanigans that currently occurs.

posted by Timekeeper on July 24, 2002 08:55 AM

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