WASHINGTON – President Bush proposed a new law Monday that would help him curb spending by proposing vetoes of specific items in spending bills — authority that the Supreme Court struck down eight years ago but which would be structured differently under Bush's plan.
"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."
Both Republican and Democratic presidents have sought the power to eliminate a single item in a spending or tax bill without killing the entire measure.
President Clinton got that wish in 1996, when the new reform-minded Republican majority in the House helped pass a line-item veto law. Two years later, the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional because it allowed the president to single-handedly amend laws passed by Congress.
"Congress gave the president the line-item veto in 1996, but because with problems the way the law was written, the Supreme Court struck it down," Bush said. "That should not be the end of the story."
Bush announced his plan, which he first revealed in his State of the Union address a month ago, at the swearing-in ceremony for Edward Lazear, the new chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Bush has not vetoed any legislation during five years in office, but he said the line-item veto would help "reduce wasteful spending, reduce the budget deficit and ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely."
The earlier version of the line-item veto allowed Clinton to single-handedly strike parochial projects and special interest tax breaks. It was passed by Congress as one of the key planks of the GOP's "Contract With America."
Instead, Bush is proposing that he be allowed to send Congress proposals to strike earmarks from spending bills and special interest tax breaks and that Congress be required to bring them to a vote. Constitutional scholars say this version should pass muster with the Supreme Court.
Lawmakers' enthusiasm for the earlier veto power waned sharply in 1997 after Clinton used it gently against a handful of special interest tax provisions and about 80 earmarks from spending bills, leading some lawmakers to change their minds.
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. John Kerry, D-Mass., pushed a similar approach in his presidential campaign.
Still, a proposal similar to Bush's veto plan was actually voted down by the House two years ago a 174-237 vote, with three out of four Democrats voting "nay."
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.
But supporters say the practice of larding legislation with hometown projects and special interest tax breaks has gotten out of control. Now that Congress itself is pushing for "earmark reform," they may be more willing to go along.