President Bush would receive greater power to try to kill “pork barrel” spending projects under a bill passed Thursday by the House.
Lawmakers voted to give Bush and his successor a weaker version of the line-item veto law struck down by the Supreme Court in 1998, despite a recent series of lopsided votes in which they’ve rallied to preserve each other’s back-home projects. The new power would expire after six years.
The idea advances amid increasing public concern about lawmakers’ penchant for stuffing parochial projects into spending bills that the president must accept or reject in their entirety.
The House passed the bill by a 247-172 vote. Thirty-five Democrats joined with most Republicans in voting for the bill; 15 Republicans opposed the measure and others voted for the bill despite private reservations.
The measure must still pass the Senate, and that’s by no means a certainty.
The bill would allow the president to single out items contained in appropriations bills he signs into law, and it would require Congress to vote on those items again. It also could be used against increases in benefit programs and tax breaks aimed at a single beneficiary.
Under the proposal, it would take a simple majority in both the House and the Senate to approve the items over the president’s objections.
Goal to end wasteful spending
The hope is that wasteful spending or special interest tax breaks would be vulnerable since Congress might vote to reject such items once they are no longer protected by their inclusion in bigger bills that the president has little choice but to sign.
“The line item veto is a critical tool that will help rein in wasteful spending and bring greater transparency to the budget process,” Bush said in a statement after the vote.
Supporters said lawmakers would think twice before slipping poorly conceived projects into spending bills.
“The success of this bill will be less in the amount of pork that we line-item veto out and more in how much pork never gets put into the legislation in the first place,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Weaker version of 1996 bill
The bill is a far weaker version of the line-item veto that Republicans in Congress gave President Clinton in 1996. That bill allowed Clinton to strike items from appropriations and tax bills unless Congress mustered a two-thirds margin to override him.
The Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional two years later because it let the president change laws passed by Congress.
It’s not clear that the new spending control tool would be very effective. Congress easily mustered the two-thirds margins needed to override Clinton’s 1997 vetoes of military construction projects. More recently, lawmakers have united to reject attacks by a lone conservative, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to strip from spending bills the very kind of projects the new line-item veto is aimed at attacking.
Still, the plan is eagerly embraced by Republicans and their core conservative political supporters and is a way to demonstrate election-year resolve on spending.
The Senate is considering a line-item veto as part of a sweeping plan to overhaul the government’s arcane budget process, although the plan is expected to bog down quickly when brought to the floor. So far, Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is resisting the idea of advancing the line-item veto plan on its own.