MILLER: The waste eraser

Line-item veto would slow down Washington’s big spenders

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Members of Congress, even with supercommittee powers, are incapable of cutting spending. With the public debt growing more and more out of control, something has to be done. So House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, joined his ranking member, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, in reviving the idea of a line-item veto on Wednesday.

Mr. Van Hollen explained in an interview with The Washington Times that this is an idea both political parties can support. “We obviously have different views of the role of government, but everybody benefits when taxpayers feel that their dollars are being spent wisely,” he said. “This is to make sure we don’t have any more bridges to nowhere.”

President Clinton briefly had line-item veto power until the Supreme Court took it away. Patrick Louis Knudsen, senior budget fellow at the Heritage Foundation, explained that, “The Line Item Veto Act of 1996 was found unconstitutional because it violated the ‘presentment’ clause - which says that when Congress sends a bill to the president, the president either signs or vetoes the entire bill - he cannot reject part of it.” Mr. Ryan consulted with the lawyers who won the case in drafting this new version.

The revised process would give the president 45 days from the enactment of an appropriations bill to send up to two messages to Congress recommending cancelation of specific discretionary spending items. The president could withhold funds for the programs for 45 days while Congress pens legislation to implement the recommendation.

The bill would get expedited floor consideration, a straight up-or-down vote and no amendments would be allowed. The savings could only be used for deficit reduction, and spending caps would be adjusted downward. “I know Chairman Ryan has worked strenuously to thread that constitutional needle,” Mr. Knudsen said. “Whether he has succeeded, the court would have to decide.”

Mr. Ryan sponsored a similar bill the House had passed in 2006 only to fail in the Senate. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, are hopeful their version, which has 43 cosponsors from both parties, will succeed. Mr. McCain had lobbied the supercommittee to include a line-item veto as part of his 20-year quest to give the president this waste-slashing authority.

The line-item veto is just the first in a series of reform proposals to be introduced in the weeks ahead, Mr. Ryan’s spokesman, Conor Sweeney, told The Washington Times. “Of course Chairman Ryan does not think any one of these alone is sufficient to solve the debt crisis, but the broken budget process has to be addressed in an effort to tackle the real problem: the explosive growth of government spending,” he said.

Congressional approval ratings are in the single-digit range for a reason. Giving presidents from either political party the permanent ability to blot out pork projects is a needed step in the right direction.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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