In his Saturday radio address, President Bush asked Congress to give him more authority to slice and dice the budget. For those readers who do not immediately know what this means, let me give you the three-word term: line-item veto. This is an idea that's popular with conservatives who think the White House needs more muscle to restrict federal spending.
It is also popular with the Bush Administration. The president said in his address that,
"under the current system, many lawmakers are able to insert funding for pet projects into large spending bills.” According to the president this leaves lawmakers with two bad options; voting against an entire bill with “worthwhile” spending or vote for a bill that has money for special-interest projects.
It is interesting that the president explained his plea in such a way. First off, with his Party in the majority, Congress can pass most, and up to most recently, everything the president has asked of them. Second, special-interest money is part of every piece of legislation. No Party is immune; the president should not try to act the innocent or worse, the ignorant.
Of course, in terms, of what the president really wants, and what governors in 43 other states have, is the line-item veto. For those of you presidential historians out there, or just politically astute citizens, President Clinton asked for the same authority without positive results.
On Thursday, the House passed a watered-down version of a more sweeping line-item veto law that the Supreme Court struck down in 1998, saying it took too much spending authority away from Congress. The House bill, which passed 247-172, would let the president try to kill individual items contained in spending or tax bills that he otherwise signs into law. Congress would be required to vote on those specific items again. A simple majority in both the House and the Senate could override the president's objections.
The line from the president’s address that was most interesting was how a line-item veto would reduce the incentive for Congress to spend wastefully because lawmakers would be less likely to slip pet projects into large spending bills if they knew they could be held up to public scrutiny. Here are my questions: What were the last budget figures that President Bush sent to Congress? What was the last Congressional spending amount?
Of course, lawmakers from both parties have reservations about the line-item veto, contending it shifts too much power to the president, allowing him to try to cut projects proposed by his political enemies, or to use the threat of cutting projects in exchange for favorable votes on legislation the White House desires. This is true, and more importantly if such authority was granted the entire intent of Constitutional checks and balances would be made irrelevant. As mid-term electioneering continues let us move away from the impossible to the probable. That is what the citizens really want. That is what the citizens really deserve.