- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

The House yesterday passed two major fiscal-reform bills, one to lower the estate or death tax and the other to grant the president limited authority to strike individual spending items from bills without having to veto the entire legislation.

The Supreme Court has rejected as unconstitutional a previous bid by federal legislators to give the president line-item-veto power, saying the authority to spend and tax lies with Congress alone.

Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said the latest bill addresses those legal issues.

“The bill conforms with the separation of powers clause and the bicameral exception clause because Congress maintains the power to make the final decision,” said Mr. Ryan, who authored the legislation.

The bill, which passed on a 247-172 vote, gives the president 45 days after signing spending measures to submit to Congress his requests for reductions. The president may strike up to five individual spending items per appropriation bill, and must list the reasons.

Congress would have 14 days to either accept or reject the president’s spending cuts, either individually or as a whole, without amendment or debate. Unless the House and Senate reject the president’s cuts, the items would be struck from the spending bill and protected from any further presidential disapproval. The proposal also would let the president withhold for 90 days any spending that Congress returned to a bill.

The new presidential authority would not extend to entitlement expenditures such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The authority would expire in six years, giving Congress the opportunity to review its use.

Republicans and many Democrats said that enhanced transparency and responsibility are necessary to prevent special earmarks, more than 10,000 of which passed last year. Earmarks, often called “pork,” are the favored pet projects of members for their districts and often are placed in spending bills without debate or discussion.

Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, said the bill grants the president too much authority.

“This bill allows the president 45 days to pick items to be rescinded and five items per appropriation bill, and I have a problem with that because it gives him too much time to pick and choose based on political reasons,” Mr. Spratt said.

The estate tax reform bill passed on a 269-156 vote after contentious debate. Democrats, angry that their proposed increase in the minimum wage was blocked from floor consideration, forced a discussion. Republicans were forced to fight back several parliamentary motions and inquiries that led to two unnecessary votes on the House floor before the measure passed.

The bill would exempt any estate worth less than $5 million per person from federal taxation and make it easier for husbands and wives to pass on their assets with that exemption to a spouse upon their death. The $5 million exemption also would be indexed to cover the cost of inflation.

Estates worth $5 million to $25 million would be taxed at the current capital gains rate of 15 percent, and any estate worth more than $25 million would be taxed at a rate of 30 percent.

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