The Republican Congress overrode President Clinton’s line-item veto of 38 military construction projects in 24 states Wednesday, inflicting another defeat for a controversial presidential power to kill pet spending projects approved by Congress.
The Senate, on a vote of 78 to 20, joined the House to override Clinton’s Nov. 13, 1997, veto of legislation that restored $287 million for the projects to the $9.2 billion military construction portion of the fiscal 1998 budget. The House had voted to override Clinton’s action by a two-thirds majority on Feb. 5.
The congressional action was the second setback for the president’s new line-item veto in two weeks. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan, saying the law was an “unauthorized surrender to the president of an inherently legislative function - the authority to permanently shape laws and package legislation,” ruled that the line-item veto was unconstitutional on Feb. 12.
The White House is appealing directly to the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the line-item veto by late June.
The congressional override Wednesday was the first time that lawmakers set aside a president’s line-item veto since the GOP-led Congress handed presidents the new budgetary clout on Jan. 1, 1997.
Both Clinton and Republican members of Congress had favored the new presidential authority as a way to eliminate individual pork barrel spending projects tucked into voluminous spending and tax measures by lawmakers.
Clinton initially used his line-item veto last October to kill the projects. The House and Senate quickly passed legislation restoring the funding. Clinton then vetoed that measure, setting the stage for the congressional override.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called the line-item veto “a useful and appropriate tool for any president,” but urged the Senate to override the veto because he said Clinton had based his veto on incorrect information from the Pentagon.
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s panel on military construction, hailed the congressional action.
“While I remain a strong supporter of the presidential line-item veto, I also believe in the process that allows Congress to overturn these vetoes when it disagrees,” Burns said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., lambasted the congressional action, saying that spending on domestic construction projects siphoned away money needed to boost military readiness for overseas operations such as the Persian Gulf and Bosnia.
“The pork habit has become an addiction,” McCain lamented.
Clinton targeted a variety of small projects that had been tucked into the annual military construction budget by both Republicans and Democrats.
The congressional override was a rare setback for Clinton, who has used the veto power rarely. The president vetoed only 20 pieces of legislation during the first five years of his presidency - the lowest number of presidential vetoes during a full term in office since Woodrow Wilson vetoed 10 measures during his first term.