President Clinton used his line-item veto Friday to kill eight congressionally mandated energy and water projects, hitting the home states of two GOP leaders but slicing a mere $19 million from a $21 billion appropriations bill.
Left on the cutting room floor at the White House are dredging projects in Mississippi and Alaska, home states of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Republicans whose local projects have been spared in Clinton’s previous uses of the line-item veto.
Still, Clinton’s cancellation of only eight projects represents a very restrained use of the veto on a piece of legislation that is traditionally jam-packed with the kind of pork-barrel projects the line-item veto was supposed to weed out.
“I tried to show deference to Congress’ role in the appropriations process,” Clinton said in a statement released while he traveled in South America. “Nevertheless, I feel strongly that my administration should look for opportunities to save taxpayer dollars by striking unwarranted provisions of bills that come before me.”
The action comes as two separate lawsuits have been filed challenging the constitutionality of the line-item veto, which lets the president veto specific items in appropriations and tax bills without killing the entire bill.
The National Treasury Employees Union filed suit Thursday after Clinton vetoed a provision that would have allowed many federal workers to switch retirement systems. New York officials have filed suit over Clinton’s August veto of a provision that would have affected the state’s Medicaid program.
Earlier this month, Clinton created an uproar on Capitol Hill by whacking 38 local projects from a military construction appropriations bill. Lawmakers from both parties squawked that the White House went too far.
It was a politically risky use of Clinton’s new power, coming at a time when the White House was seeking lawmakers’ support for strengthening the president’s trade negotiating power. Ever since that furor, Clinton has been more sparing in his use of the veto, and congressional grumbling has diminished.
“There is receding concern as people have seen that we have been examining these projects carefully and the president has been acting judiciously,” Budget Director Franklin Raines said.
In reviewing the energy and water spending bill, the administration identified 423 projects, costing $817 million, as potential candidates for line-item veto because they had not been in the president’s budget. But most were spared because they were already in progress or were consistent with administration policies.
Raines said the eight ill-fated projects were vetoed because they were new enterprises, had costs that exceeded their benefits, were for recreational purposes serving few people, or were considered “unwarranted corporate subsidies.”
Among the projects canceled were $3.5 million to dredge a lake in Indiana; $6 million to dredge a channel in Pennsylvania to provide access to a riverfront park; and $1 million for a consortium of manufacturers to develop stronger supporting cables for high voltage power lines.