President Clinton has his first big chance to run a red pencil through objectionable items in legislation from Congress. He may not want to use it just yet.
Seventy-nine items in the giant tax-cut bill that Clinton will sign Tuesday are open to the line-item veto, provisions that offer special breaks to everyone from selected gas-station owners to New England makers of apple cider. He also could strike out spending items in the companion bill to balance the 5budget by 2002.
But the tax-and-budget package was the product of arduous negotiations between Clinton and Republicans in Congress, and he might not want to create a bad aftertaste by axing selected items after the fact.
Furthermore, there’s a good chance that Clinton’s veto would be the subject of a constitutional challenge, so the administration wants to choose its first target carefully.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he didn’t expect Clinton to use his veto authority on the two bills.
“Since it didn’t come up, and we weren’t warned about it, I think it would violate the (agreement’s) spirit,” Gingrich said.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Clinton would abide by his agreements with Congress, but that he wouldn’t hesitate to use his veto power if warranted.
Still, administration officials showed an inclination toward accommodation.
“This is not ‘let’s look for something to veto.’ This is ‘let’s look for how to make it work,”’ said communications director Ann Lewis.
Presidents have been seeking the line-item veto since the days of Ulysses S. Grant.
Clinton became the first to get it when Congress passed legislation that took effect Jan. 1 allowing him to strike specific spending items or tax breaks that affect 100 or fewer taxpayers.
His only other opportunity to use it was on a disaster-relief bill that Congress approved in June.