Line-item Veto: Delegating Responsibility

By:  Bill Hahn
02/10/2012
       
Line-item Veto: Delegating Responsibility

The House voted last week to delegate some of its legislative powers to the President.

The latest scheme that the House of Representatives came up with to delegate their power-of-the-purse responsibilities is the line-item veto. This essentially allows the President to “rescind all or part of any dollar amount of funding for discretionary spending items in enacted appropriations bills.” The House passed its line-item veto bill (H.R. 3521) on February 8 by 254-173. The Senate is expected to take action on its line-item veto bill soon, most likely by trying to attach the bill to a “must-pass” piece of legislation.
 
Wait a minute! Doesn’t the Constitution (Article 1, Section 7) grant the power of enacting laws that raise revenue to the House of Representatives? The power the President has is merely to sign it or veto it. He doesn’t get the option to cross anything out to fit his fancy.
 
A similar line-item veto law was passed when Clinton was president. That one was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. So this time around, the current line-item veto bill includes a provision that Congress has the power to disapprove any presidential line-item vetoes.

Still, even with Congress retaining the power to disapprove line-item vetoes, why would the House want to give up some of its constitutionally vested powers and further upset the checks and balances of power among the three branches of government? Surely this must be a ploy by Democratic congressmen to grab more power for President Obama. However, it was sponsored by Republican Representative Paul Ryan and Democratic Representative Chis Van Hollen, and only opposed by 41 Republicans.
 
In Wisconsin, we know a thing or two about the line-item veto.  We have had it since 1930 and should repeal it. It has generated plenty of controversy and certainly upsets the balance of power. For instance, the state Assembly and Senate might work for months on a piece of legislation, but along comes the Governor with his crafty pen to cross out and rearrange the legislation to fit his agenda. Governors in recent decades have been notorious for this, going so far as to change the intent of the appropriations legislation. In 1990, this power was curtailed a bit by not allowing the governor to create new words when crossing out parts of words and numbers.
 
In 2005, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle deleted 752 words, creating a 20-word sentence that moved $427 million of transportation funds to education. This Frankenstein veto caused great concern, and three years later voters curtailed the power even further, but still allowed it to remain.
 
Rep. Ryan claims that having the line-item veto would help slash wasteful spending. Really? By whose standards? Should we continue to allow the President to accumulate powers that are granted to other branches of the government? Unfortunately, past presidents have been wrongheaded on this too. President Ronald Reagan called for a line-item veto several times. He also wanted to cut wasteful spending, but it never materialized. And a good thing too. As mentioned above, the line-item veto that was passed into law during the Clinton years was later found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Even if the President has all the right intentions of cleaning up wasteful spending, the Constitution does not authorize him to do so! Congress has this responsibility.
 
Although dozens of states do have various creative veto options like the line-item veto, all of them shift the balance of power away from the legislative branch to the executive branch. Now Congress is dangerously close to giving the President a form of line-item veto. Can they not do anything themselves?
 
JBS Founder Robert Welch understood the importance of electing responsible politicians who obey the Constitution. He put forth the plan that if there are at least 500 constitutional activists in any given congressional district, constitutional candidates would arise from it. Those who understand and obey the Constitution know the importance of checks and balances on power. JBS continues this strategy that has worked very well when applied. Members are encouraged to follow this strategy and recruit the opinion leaders of their communities and congressional districts.
 

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