Nation/World

House Oks Presidential Line-Item Veto If Senate Goes Along, Measure Would Radically Shift Power Of The Purse Strings

Continuing to roll untrammeled through the components of the GOP’s “Contract With America,” the Republican House of Representatives voted Monday night to give the Democratic president a line-item veto - the authority to strike specific parts of spending bills and some tax measures passed by Congress without vetoing the entire legislation.

Like the constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, which the House approved last month, the line-item veto fundamentally would change the way the government works. The veto would radically shift dominant control of the nation’s purse to the president from Congress.

But also like the constitutional amendment, the measure the House passed Monday night could be stymied in the Senate, which is more jealous than the House of the powers of Congress. The Senate continued to debate the amendment Monday with little prospect for a vote any time soon.

The House approved the line-item veto bill 294-134. Voting for the bill were 223 Republicans and 71 Democrats. Four Republicans, 129 Democrats and one independent voted against it.

Democratic opponents of the measure maintain it would give too much power to the president. “The most fundamental threat to the long-term liberty of this country,” Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin told the House, “lies in the unchecked use of executive power.”

Rep. Cardiss Collins of Illinois, who led Democratic opposition on the floor, called the measure unconstitutional because “the Constitution does not give the Congress power to delegate the legislative function to the president or anyone else.”

But Republicans carried the day. Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia called it “an important step for America” when a Republican House voted to give more power to a Democratic president because the Republicans think it is the right policy.

The line-item veto, Gingrich asserted, “would allow the president to cut out some of the worst of the spending, to set some fiscal discipline.”

President Clinton supports the idea of a lineitem veto, as have all other recent presidents. Ronald Reagan was the first to popularize the notion, and the Republican leadership of the House scheduled the vote for Monday as a tribute to him on his 84th birthday.

But until relatively recently, the prevailing view in Washington has been that the Constitution requires the president to veto legislation in its entirety or sign the whole measure into law.

Under this new legislation, the president could blue-pencil individual items after signing an appropriations bill (or a tax bill as long as the item does not affect more than 100 taxpayers), and the money could not be spent without further congressional action.

The theory is that the president would go through spending bills with a fine-toothed comb and excise pork-barrel projects that lawmakers quietly had inserted. Of course, the president also could veto money for entire agencies or cities.

To reinstate the provisions the president had deleted, the House and Senate would have to pass a new bill specifically doing so. The president also could veto that bill, and the deleted items would be reinstated only if Congress voted to override the veto by a two-thirds vote of both houses.

Opponents of the measure argued Monday that a line-item veto would not by itself lead to a balanced budget. After all, they observed, half of federal spending involves what are called entitlements - programs such as Social Security and Medicare that provide payments to everyone who is eligible and do not require annual appropriations.

Supporters of the line-item veto bill did not take issue with that argument, but they said the measure is a symbol and would enforce more discipline over spending.

“The line-item veto is not going to balance the budget,” said Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon, R-N.Y. But, he added, “you need the prodding of this legislation.”

xxxx NORTHWEST VOTES Here is how Northwest representatives voted on the proposal to give the president line-item veto power. WASHINGTON Republicans: Dunn, yes; Hastings, yes; Metcalf, yes; Nethercutt, yes; Smith, yes; Tate, yes; White, yes. Democrats: Dicks, no; McDermott, no. IDAHO Republicans: Chenoweth, no; Crapo, yes. MONTANA Democrat: Williams, no.



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