Republicans Back Line-Item Veto for President

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - Fiscal conservatives are endorsing proposed legislation that would give President Bush the line-item veto, but one Democrat said the president should be more concerned about submitting a balanced budget.

The line-item veto, enjoyed by 33 governors, would allow the president to identify wasteful earmarks in appropriations and tax bills.

"With a line-item veto, the president could help get special-interest and pork-barrel spending under control," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. "Coming on the heels of last year's record pork-barrel spending, this proposal could not be more timely."

President Bush promoted the proposal on Monday: "Too many bills passed by Congress include unnecessary spending. These earmarks reflect special interests instead of the people's interests," he said at the White House.

CCAGW noted that the number of pork-barrel projects in the federal budget has skyrocketed from 1,439 in fiscal 1995 to 13,997 in fiscal 2005, an increase of 873 percent.

Among the $27.3 billion of pork identified in CAGW's 2005 Congressional Pig Book were $6.3 million for wood utilization research and $2 million to buy back the USS Sequoia Presidential Yacht. (The 2006 Congressional Pig Book will be released on April 5.)

Critics say the runaway earmarks are boosting the federal budget deficit, which the Bush administration expects to hit a record $439 billion in 2007.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) called the line-item veto a positive tool for good governing and fiscal responsibility:

"I supported this measure in 1996 when we passed a line item veto proposal under President Clinton. Waste is waste, and all of us have a responsibility to help root it out and protect the American taxpayers' dollars," Hastert said in a statement.

The first line-item veto law took effect in January 1997, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1998.

That Clinton-era law allowed the president himself to strip specific spending items and certain tax benefits from the final version of legislation, but Congress could reinstate those items with a two-thirds vote.

According to CCAGW, President Bill Clinton vetoed 82 items, saving $2 billion over five years.

President Bush's proposal is slightly different: Instead of striking line items himself, the president would flag the items he wants to remove. The bill would then go back to Congress, which would have 10 days to vote on the president's recommended cuts.

Unlike the earlier law, Congress would either accept or reject the president's proposed line-item eliminations with a simple majority vote.

Earmarks were at the heart of the lobbying/bribery scandal involving former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), said the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, CAGW's lobbying arm. Members of Congress often direct earmarks to groups that donate heavily to their re-election campaigns.

"The line-item veto is just one element in earmark reform, and earmark reform is just one element in spending restraint," Schatz said. "However, the line-item veto would add an important check to a budget process that is tainted by waste, abuse, and favoritism. Congressional leaders should move quickly on this proposal."

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said if President Bush were really serious about the deficit, he would begin by submitting a balanced budget.

"The Bush Administration has spent us into record deficits and piled mountains of debt onto our children," Pelosi said in a press release. But he has not vetoed a single spending bill, she said.

"Budget experts agree that the line-item veto would do little to control deficits, and the Bush Administration fails to do what it takes to get our financial house in order -- submit a balanced budget and reinstate the pay-as-you-go rule. These are the rules that every family must live by -- and Democrats believe that this is what the federal government must do."

Republican Sens. Bill Frist (Tenn.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Mitch McConnell (Ky.), are expected to introduce line-item bill on Tuesday, and the Washington Post reported that the measure has bipartisan support.

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