Obama Seeks New Power to Eliminate Earmarks, Other Spending
The legislation would award Obama and his successors the ability to take two months or more to scrutinize spending bills that have already been signed into law for pork barrel projects and other dubious programs. He could then send Congress a package of spending cuts for a mandatory up-or-down vote on whether to accept or reject them.
Senate Democrats filibustered the idea to death just three years ago, and so Obama's move would seem like a long shot. But the plan could pick up traction in the current anti-Washington political environment in which lawmakers are desperate to demonstrate they are tough on spending.
The White House move also comes as Obama's Democratic allies in Congress are trying to pass a tax and spending bill providing $170 billion for programs such as unemployment benefits, aid to state governments, and help for doctors facing a big cut in Medicare reimbursements. The Senate is also taking up an almost $60 billion war funding bill, and a vote looms on an administration-backed plan to add $23 billion to help school districts avoid teacher layoffs.
Under the Constitution, the president has to either sign a bill -- forcing him to take the bad along with the good -- or veto it, which can be impractical. That allows Congress to pad spending legislation with items a president does not like.
The White House says Obama would use the new power to try to weed out earmarks such as water and sewer grants and road projects not requested by the administration.
The new authority is far weaker than the line-item veto power a GOP-dominated Congress gave President Clinton in 1996. Under that bill, before it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1998, Clinton's line-item vetoes automatically went into effect unless overturned by a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate.
When Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., tried in 2007 to force a vote on the weaker version, he won only 49 votes, far short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster led by Democrats such as Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who assailed it as an attack on Congress' power of the purse.
All but a handful of state governors have the line-item veto, which allows then to kill individual items in spending bills unless they are overridden by state legislatures.
When Clinton used the line-item veto, he applied a light touch. Even so, Congress recoiled and overrode many of his vetoes.
There is already a process under which Obama can ask Congress to cut wasteful programs, but lawmakers are free to ignore the request. Republicans have urged Obama to send the Democratic-controlled Congress a package of such rescissions, but he has opted not to do so.
The new spending cut proposal would apply to the $1 trillion-plus in Cabinet agency budgets passed by Congress each year. Programs like farm subsidies and Medicare wouldn't be threatened; neither would special interest tax breaks.