- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

President Bush yesterday called the line-item veto the next “crucial test” for Congress on spending restraint, and said he was “disappointed” in House Democrats who claimed they were for fiscal discipline but voted against the plan last week.

“You can’t call for fiscal discipline on the one hand and then not pass a tool to enhance fiscal discipline on the other hand,” he said, referring to the 156 Democrats in the House who voted against a line-item proposal.

Mr. Bush also promised, using the strongest language he’s used in months, to take another stab at controlling the growth of Social Security, saying he will try every year for the rest of his administration.

“If we can’t get it done this year, I’m going to try next year. And if we can’t get it done next year, I’m going to try the year after that,” he said at a speech in Washington, sponsored by the Manhattan Institute.

The president claimed a victory by keeping the recent emergency spending bill to $94.5 billion, and said the line-item veto vote in the Senate later this year is the next big test. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist hopes for a vote this summer, according to a spokeswoman.

A line-item veto passed the House last week, 247-172, with 212 Republicans and 35 Democrats supporting it.

Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman, a former member of Congress who is now the administration’s point-man on the issue, said at least 60 senators are already on record supporting a line-item veto.

“You start with a base of 50 who supported a much more executive branch-tilted line-item veto [in 1996], and then you add to that the co-sponsors of the legislation now, and you get over 60,” Mr. Portman said.

Mr. Bush yesterday said those who supported the 1996 law, later struck down by the Supreme Court, should be on board again.

“It was good enough 10 years ago, it’s good enough today, for those who voted for the line-item veto,” he said.

This year’s bill does have some strong Democratic supporters, including Rep. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, who worked hard to win over Democrats. And in the Senate, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, has taken a prominent public role in pushing for what he said is a “no-brainer” bill.

“With record deficits and bridges being built to nowhere, we’ve got to stop the incomprehensible waste coming out of Washington,” said Mr. Kerry, Mr. Bush’s 2004 opponent in the presidential election. Mr. Kerry won special praise from Mr. Bush yesterday for his consistent support.

But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Republicans could expect little support from Democrats if the line-item proposal is part of a broader budget package Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, is working on.

“I can’t imagine there would be any support for this,” he said, adding that Mr. Bush and Republicans continue to focus on spending cuts without looking at revenue or tax increases as well.

Unlike the 1996 line-item veto, the new proposal isn’t exactly a veto. Called the “legislative line-item veto,” it would allow the president to send a new bill back to Congress pointing out projects that should be cut. Congress would then have a set period of time to vote to accept or reject his recommendations.

The Supreme Court deemed the 1996 version unconstitutional, saying Congress did not have the authority to give the president the power to change legislation it had already passed. The court said the president can either sign legislation into law or send it back to Congress.

Mr. Portman said the new version will provide a spotlight to scare off some lawmakers from adding questionable projects, and that could give extra muscle to key subcommittee chairmen looking to keep extraneous spending out of their bills.

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