- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Capitol Hill lawmakers say they will work to narrowly define the president’s authority in a line-item veto bill aimed at allowing the executive branch to selectively strike spending measures in federal budgets.

The Senate Budget Committee held its first hearing yesterday on the bill granting the president line-item veto authority.

“It is difficult to predict how [line-item authority] would affect the legislative process, and consequently, whether the changes proposed in the bill would actually improve fiscal discipline or would simply shift spending priorities to those favored by the president,” said Donald M. Marron, acting director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Congress passed a bill to give line-item veto authority to President Clinton in 1996, enabling him to remove certain spending and tax measures from the budget passed by Congress without having to veto it in its entirety. The city of New York sued on constitutional grounds.

New York won its case in the Supreme Court, and five of the six justices who ruled in the majority opinion are still on the bench.

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said he is confident that the constitutional questions that the court raised have been addressed.

“But there are still substantive issues that we need to resolve to ensure that there is no abuse by the executive,” he said.

He and many other senators, including Mr. Bush’s 2004 presidential election opponent, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, support the endeavor.

“Last year, there were 14,000 congressional earmarks costing more than $27 billion. There’s blame enough to go around, but the spending spree has to stop,” Mr. Kerry said in March.

Fiscal conservatives have decried wasteful spending in Congress that often is enacted through last-minute earmarks that members have written into bills for pet projects.

The bill, however, drew the ire of the Senate’s most senior member, Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat. Yesterday, he said he opposed granting the president budget authority expressly granted to Congress in the Constitution.

“We are fortunate that the Supreme Court intervened to correct that egregious error,” he said, calling the Line-Item Veto Act an “anathema” to the legislative process.

The bill requires any rescinded direct spending items to be dedicated only to deficit reduction, and does not allow the president to use the authority for any reason other than to offset spending increases. The authority would cover any committee allocations to the budget and earmarks.

It also gives Congress 13 days to respond to the president’s proposed vetoes, without any opportunity to amend them.

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