March 24, 1995 in Nation/World

Senate Approves Line-Item Veto Congress Enhances Power Of President To Alter Federal Spending

New York Times
 

With wide bipartisan support, the Senate voted Thursday to give the president unprecedented control of the federal purse - the power to veto specific items in spending bills and some future tax benefits.

The Senate passed the bill 69-29, nearly eight weeks after the House had approved a different version of the line-item veto. A central piece of the Republican agenda, the veto is being pushed as a budget-cutting tool.

Before the bill can be sent to President Clinton, who has said he will sign it, differences between the Senate and the House versions must be resolved by a conference committee. Among them is the life of the line-item authority itself. The Senate version has a five-year “sunset” clause, but the House has no such provision.

Whatever the shape of the final bill reaching Clinton’s desk, it could produce a major power shift in Washington and create what even its most ardent supporters concede will be a political Pandora’s box by giving the Democratic White House a far more potent say over the Republican agenda.

Rarely has the legislative branch willingly shifted power to the executive branch. But with the Senate vote on Thursday, Congress agreed to cede to the president, at least temporarily, one of its most jealously guarded rights - the power of the purse.

It is odd by any standard of politics that a Congress controlled by one party would give such a powerful political tool to a president representing another. But the Republicans appeared to be willing to take that political gamble for several reasons, not least of which is that they expect a Republican to be in the White House in 1997.

They also think they stand to gain more than they would lose by co-opting the president in their efforts to achieve the deficit reduction that they believe the American people want.

A line-item veto bill would give the president control over spending that far exceeds the powers spelled out in the Constitution, which gives the chief executive the right to veto only entire bills, and that raised concerns among a number of senators.

“We are considering a proposal which, although not drafted as an amendment to the Constitution, nonetheless has important and far-reaching constitutional implications,”“The amendment before us will not impose discipline on Congress, nor will it erase the national debt,” Moynihan said. “It is very likely unconstitutional and it undoubtedly will be litigated, and the courts will have to decide,” said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., who voted against the bill.

xxxx Historic bill Here’s how the line-item veto works: After any appropriations bill or authorization measure is passed, it is broken up into smaller bills covering each spending item. Congress then approves the bundle of smaller bills en bloc. The president then can carry out his constitutional right to veto any bill coming out of Congress. He has 10 days to exercise his veto power. A two-thirds majority in both houses is needed to override a presidential veto. How they voted Here’s how Northwest senators voted. A “yes” vote was a vote in favor of the line-item veto while a “no” vote was a vote against. Washington. Slade Gorton (R) yes; Patty Murray (D) no. Oregon Mark Hatfield (R) no; Bob Packwood (R) yes. Idaho Larry Craig (R) yes; Dirk Kempthorne (R) yes.


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