Line Item Veto – A New Approach
President Obama is expected to propose an alternative to the line item veto today. Dubbed the Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010, the White House will send Congress the proposal, including a new expedited procedure to remove spending items from congressionally passed appropriations.
In 1996, Congress passed a line item veto that was signed into law by then President Bill Clinton. That bill was a traditional line by line veto of budgeted items. In 1998, by a 6-3 vote, the United States Supreme Court ruled the line item veto an unconstitutional abrogation of congressional power in Clinton v. City of New York. Numerous attempts to circumvent the Court’s ruling have been presented in the years since. Most recently, President George W. Bush presented a “legislative” line item veto to Congress in 2006. A related bill was passed by the House, but neither the House bill nor the White House proposal ever came to a vote in the Senate.
Under the Obama proposal, the President would identify a list of rescissions to congressionally approved appropriations and submit the proposed rescissions to Congress as a package. Congress would then be required to vote on the proposed spending rescissions as a whole. The rescission package would not be subject to amendment, and would require an up or down vote without a specified time frame. The required vote would preclude Senate filibuster on the rescission package.
By leaving the “power of the purse” in the hands of Congress, the White House is hopeful that the proposal will meet constitutional muster. Reactions from Congress are muted pending receipt of the actual proposal.
Short of a Constitutional Amendment, any final action on spending will continue to be defined as a Congressional function. While the Obama proposal may prove to be somewhat ungainly in practice, it is probably as efficient an alternative to the line item veto as can be hoped for in light of the Clinton v. City of New York decision. The 1996 act allowed Congress to “disapprove” line item vetoes and reinsert spending items after the President struck them. The Obama proposal puts the power of spending rescission in the hands of Congress following presidential submission.
Proposals similar to the Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act have been tried in the past. The Impoundment Control Act of 1974 allowed a president to impound, i.e. defer, spending of appropriated funds. The 1974 act also allowed for a rescission process similar to the Obama proposal. Unfortunately, the 1974 act did not require Congress to vote on proposed rescissions. Congress has responded by repeatedly failing to bring proposed rescissions to a vote, a loophole the Obama proposal would close.
[Author’s Note: the image above is a photo of the first presidential veto by then president George Washington of the Apportionment Act of 1792.]
Cross posted at Elijah’s Sweete Spot.