President Clinton used the line-item veto Monday to cancel 38 military construction projects worth $287 million, angering members of Congress and threatening a fragile bipartisan relationship.
Using authority sought by presidents for more than a century and available to him this year, Clinton surprised Congress and other critics with the size of the swath he cut through the $9.2 billion military construction plan approved by Congress last month.
Long a vehicle for pet projects, the appropriations bill grew this year as Congress added about $1 billion to the $8 billion budget the president had proposed in February.
“The use of the line-item veto saves taxpayers nearly $290 million and makes clear that the old rules have, in fact, changed,” Clinton said during an Oval Office ceremony.
On Capitol Hill, congressional leaders defended the trimmed projects and charged that Clinton misunderstands the rules. “This was not what the line-item veto was supposed to cover,” said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “These were not pork projects. These were projects the military wanted.”
The vetoed projects include a number of Democratic favorites, including two worth $14.8 million in Texas, a $6.8 million West Virginia National Guard center, a $9.5 million Asian Pacific center for security studies in Hawaii and a $5.2 million National Guard aviation facility in Rapid City, S.D., favored by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Of the 38 canceled projects, 24 worth $178.8 million were in Republican congressional districts, while 14 worth $107.9 million were in Democratic districts.
Spared were eight projects from Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s home state of Mississippi. Clinton’s budget proposed spending $30.9 million on student dormitories at Keesler Air Force Base, but Congress added $37 million for six more projects, including dining halls, bachelors quarters, an ammunition plant and a Mississippi National Guard training base.
Clinton said the projects on his hit list met three criteria: They had not been requested by the Pentagon, design work had not begun and they would not benefit the quality of life for soldiers or their families.
Clinton and his aides tried to deflect congressional criticism by pointing out that most of the spending bill was left untouched. Their hope, they insisted, is that Congress will exercise greater restraint in the appropriations bills still being considered.
xxxx FAIRCHILD SPARED Three projects at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane were considered possible veto targets but were spared: $4.75 million for a fire station, $8.2 million for renovation of an education center and library and $9.5 million to upgrade a KC-135 jet tanker facility for the Air National Guard.