WASHINGTON – President Bush is pushing Congress to give him more authority to slice and dice the budget, an idea that's popular with conservatives who think the White House needs more muscle to restrict federal spending.
"Under the current system, many lawmakers are able to insert funding for pet projects into large spending bills," Bush said in his Saturday radio address.
Bush says this leaves lawmakers with two bad options: They can vote against an entire bill even though it contains worthwhile spending, or they can vote for a bill even though it includes money for special-interest projects.
"The president is left with the same dilemma — either he has to veto the entire bill, or sign the bill and approve the unnecessary spending," Bush said, adding that governors in 43 states have line-item veto authority.
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.
Bush said 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.
"A line-item veto would give the president a way to insist on greater discipline in the budget," Bush said.
The measure must still pass the Senate, and that's by no means a certainty.
Democrats generally oppose the measure. And not all Republicans are excited about the idea, although some embrace it as a way to demonstrate election-year resolve to rein in federal spending.
Lawmakers from both parties who have reservations about the line-item veto contend 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.