Bush asks Congress for modified line-item veto power
WASHINGTON – Seeking new power to weed hometown projects from legislation passed by Congress, President Bush on Monday asked lawmakers to give him a modified version of the line-item veto struck down by the Supreme Court eight years ago.Like presidents dating back to Ulysses S. Grant, Bush wants the power to strike individual items from a bill without having to veto the entire measure.President Clinton got that wish in 1996, when the new Republican majority in the House pushed through a line-item veto law that allowed him to kill individual spending projects and special-interest tax breaks.Two years later, the Supreme Court declared the law – one of the key planks of the House GOP’s “Contract With America” – unconstitutional because it allowed the president to amend laws passed by Congress.Bush is now pressing for a modified, weaker version. Instead of being able to strike items from bills, he would send one or more items back to Congress for an up-or-down vote. Present law permits Congress to ignore these proposed rescissions, but under the Bush proposal lawmakers would have to vote on them. If majorities in both the House and the Senate agreed with the president, the cuts would take effect.”Forty-three governors have this line-item veto in their states,” Bush said. “Now it’s time to bring this important tool of fiscal discipline to Washington, D.C.”Bush has not vetoed any legislation during five years in office, but he said the modified line-item proposal would help “reduce wasteful spending, reduce the budget deficit and ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.”House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., issued statements supporting Bush, as did several conservative lawmakers.And Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who promoted a similar approach in his presidential campaign against Bush in 2004, immediately jumped on board.”It’s no secret that President Bush and I don’t agree on much, but I fully support giving him the line-item veto,” Kerry said. “I’m going to introduce this legislation, Congress should immediately pass it, and I want to see President Bush use this veto pen to get tough on wasteful spending.””Giving the president line-item veto authority is essential to enforcing the budget and restoring fiscal sanity in Washington,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.The proposal may be helped along by the drive on Capitol Hill for so-called “earmark reform.”Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he was opposed to the idea even though he supported a similar plan in 1995 when offered as a weaker alternative to the GOP version.The earlier version of the line-item veto was used by Clinton in 1997 against about 80 parochial projects and a handful of special-interest tax breaks. Lawmakers’ enthusiasm for the earlier veto power waned sharply, leading lawmakers like Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, to change their minds and oppose the idea.Congress, by a huge margin, overturned Clinton’s vetoes of 38 military construction projects.Bush’s version was actually pushed by Democrats in the 1990s – including Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, who filed suit against the 1996 law.Still, a proposal similar to Bush’s veto plan was actually voted down by the House two years ago on a 237-174 vote, with three out of four Democrats voting “nay.” Some 89 Republicans, including then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., also opposed the measure.Lawmakers opposed to the line-item veto idea say that Congress should carefully guard its power of the purse and that presidents could use the expanded power against their political enemies.Supporters say the practice of larding legislation with hometown projects and special-interest tax breaks has gotten out of control. Too often, a president has to accept such “pork” as the price of adopting legislation that he has little choice but to sign.Vail, Colorado
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