- LINE ITEM VETO
In our country, a line item veto is a kind of executive power that enables authority to delete or disapprove specific clauses, parts or provisions of a bill. The most important accomplishment of course is that the rest of bill, with more approval percentage still passes through, and that pork barrel clauses do not ride genuinely needed provisions into approval. Usually whenever such a power is instituted, they may possibly be overridden legislatively. In this way, line item vetoes are similar to the traditional vetoes (discarding the whole bill). All except six states in the Union have granted such powers to their respective governors. Historically, during the Civil War, the Confederate President was accorded with thee powers: to approve or disapprove appropriations selectively.
- LINE-ITEM VETO ACT OF 1996
Unites States Presidents have long since asked the Congress to approve the line-veto through the years. The power has always been denied by the Congress, or it has been struck down by the Supreme Court each time it was approved by the legislature. The reasons that most presidents have cited include primarily, “cutting down waste spending”. The only time in recent past such a power was accorded, was in 1996, when President Bill Clinton successfully argued for it in order to clamp down on waste spending (Locklar, 1997). He would use it multiple times, before the Supreme Court decided in favor of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, citing a violation of the Presentment Clause, and struck it down.
- PROPOSED AMENDMENTS
Since being illegalized in 1996 by the Supreme Court, an amendment has been considered many times to the Constitution to allow the President such powers.
President George W. Bush first announced his intent to seek line veto powers in his State of the Union address in 2006 (“Bush calls for,” 2006). He subsequently sent a proposal titled, Legislative Line Veto Act of 2006. The proposal was jointly introduced by party bigwigs John McCain, Bill Frist and Mitch McConnell. The bill would be useful, it was pointed out, by reducing waste spending while the time to review any struck down clause would be kept to be under ten days. The only way this proposal was different than the one in 1996, was that it sought approval of the Congress before cutting down a proposal – as opposed to executive action.
However the proposal was not very well received in many quarters. Many opponents of the proposal were people notorious for introducing just the kind of pork-barrel, wasteful spending, favoring their constituencies.
The biggest complaint was that such a power would allow a President to manipulate individual Congress members by singling out their projects, or stifling them. Additionally it was said that the proposal would remove the “power of the Purse” of the Congress enshrined by the constitution.
However two professors at Georgetown University Law Center, Viet D Dinh and Nathan A Sales testified before the House Committee on the Budget on constitutional issues in favor of the proposal. They claimed that proposal was not in violation of the Constitution’s Bicameralism and Presentment Clause. Therefore it was different than the Bill struck down by the Supreme Court in 1996. Besides they argued that the new proposal is in agreement with Congress’ power to govern it’s internal affairs.
The Legislative Line-Item Veto Act, named H.R. 4890 was approved by the House Budget Committee and subsequently in the full house on June 22. However it could not get Senate approval. This prevented it from becoming a law.
- POSITIVE ASPECTS OF LINE VETO
While Presidents and the executive branch end up taking much of the heat for federal spending, with the way affairs are they are not to blame a whole lot. If the Presidents are not allowed to cut off specific clauses that seem more favorable to a particular idea, people or region over and above the others, it is a serious concern. While opponents argue that the executive branch would get in a position to manipulate and bully congress members of the opposition by singling out their proposals, the same can be said the other way round. Bills justifying funds and favors for a select group or region often ride Bills of actual merit that need urgent attention, helping buy support.
Pork Barrel spending has recently emerged as an important presidential campaign issue (Drudge, 2008). It is considered a derogatory term which refers to seizing public taxpayer money for regional projects, primarily to bring money to one’s district. The money could go into creating jobs and funding a project – public works, national defense spending, subsidies to farmers and weak or ailing industries, with no apparent end or goal in sight. This type of spending can be identified by the following parameters:
- Usually going to a single representative’s constituency or a small group of representatives.
- Asked by a single chamber of the Congress.
- The award is not competitive, ignoring other potential areas, justifying funds.
- Not authorized.
- Without the President’s role.
- Exceeds the last year’s budget or funding.
- Not subject or entitled to a hearing by the Congress.
- Is local in nature.
Notorious examples in the past have included the Gravina Island Bridge in Alaska, also called the “Bridge to nowhere.” The funding was pushed by Republican senator Ted Stevens and was to cost the taxpayers $398 million. The bridge was to link the island’s 50 residents to the Ketchikan International Airport (The Associated Press, 2007).
Likewise the “Big Dig” in Boston, was a project in Boston, Massachusetts to replace a 3.5 mile stretch of an interstate by another running underground. This project, ended up costing the taxpayers $4 billion per mile. The funding was provided by the federal government after being pressured by a democratic senator, Tip O’Neill, while he was speaker of the house.
The biggest advantage of the line veto bill would needless to say be to help reduce, if not eliminate wasteful spending.
The passage of a line veto bill would also help make the President more accountable and responsible as regards governmental spending.
Any frivolous spending bills brought out after a line veto bill is enacted will at least hold the house member responsible for the amendment.
- NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF LINE VETO
The critics term the bill a tool in the hand of the executive to manipulate the opposition, by singling out their proposals or adding their own riders to their genuine demands.
Some academics, also have argued that the bill would give the President wide ranging powers, rivaling those of Congress. This would significantly end up shaping where the tax payer money goes.
Whereas some point out that over the course of years, building upon the law, the President could gain de facto legislative powers changing laws – which would be unconstitutional.
- CONCLUSION: SHOULD THE PRESIDENT GET LINE VETO?
While the scales are tipped in favor of powerful senators like Robert Byrd of West Virginia that are notorious for pushing for unjustified constituency funding, I believe the other way round would have challenges of another kind. Therefore I’m in agreement with critics as well, that the line veto bill would be dangerous in a way that it would concentrate too many decisions in the hands of the executive branch and the President. There is a reason to believe anytime power is enshrined it ends up corrupting. Past Presidents have shown the weakness, only the players change.
Therefore I would vote for a bill very similar to the one struck down in 2006. The reason would be that it was moderated in that it would allow for congressional hearings on lines vetoed out by president within a reasonable timeframe.
This will ensure that the balance of power is maintained and no one party would find it easy to siphon off funds from a more needing region or group, for their own districts.
At the same time it would ensure that there is collective responsibility and more transparency in the process. A model is already operating with all but six governors accorded with line veto at the state level.
- Bush calls for line-item veto . (2006, march 07). The Washington Times, Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2006/mar/7/20060307-125551-3696r/
- Drudge, Michael. (2008, August 01). “pork barrel” spending emerging as presidential campaign issue .America.gov: Engaging the world, Retrieved from http://www.america.gov/st/usg-english/2008/August/20080801181504lcnirellep0.1261713.html
- Locklar, Michael G. (1997). Comment: is the 1996 line-item veto constitutional?. LexisNexis, Retrieved from https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=DocumentDisplay&crawlid=1&doctype=cite&docid=34+Hous.+L.+Rev.+1161&srctype=smi&srcid=3B15&key=868c8a3a6b6740ce65f3ba9668c49218
- The Associated Press, . (2007, September 20). Alaska: end sought for ‘bridge to nowhere’. The New York Times, Retrieved from http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A04E7D81F3AF931A1575AC0A9619C8B63