- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Advocates for creating a line-item budget veto said yesterday that such a system would curb wasteful spending and rein in congressional pork-barrel spending that totaled more than $27 billion last year.

Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, sponsored the measure at the request of President Bush. He said the provision would increase the accountability and transparency of the budget process.

“This line-item authority would allow the president to reach into these bills and subject unjustified spending in the bills to that additional public scrutiny, without endangering the other priorities reflected in the bill,” said Joel D. Kaplan, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Mr. Ryan described the measure as a tool the president can use to attack pork-barrel spending, also known as earmarks. He noted that under the current system, a president’s only option for a major spending bill is to veto or sign it, allowing pork items to pass.

But House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, California Republican, yesterday testified that giving a president such authority would be a dangerous move that would “dramatically impact” the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.

“For us to presume that all the problems with spending and the problems with government are going to be solved by a proposal that transfers very significant authority as well as the responsibility of the legislative branch … could be a very serious error,” the California Republican told the House Rules subcommittee on legislative and budget matters.

Mr. Lewis urged members to be “very, very cautious” and noted the earmarks in question total about 1 percent of federal discretionary spending.

“Change must be considered to control certain aspects of congressional spending,” said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican and chairman of the subcommittee.

Mr. Ryan said Citizens Against Government Waste calculated more than 14,000 earmarks totaling $27.3 billion last year, up from 4,000 earmarks a decade ago.

Under Mr. Ryan’s proposal, a president could pull out any number of individual line items from a spending bill and call for their reconsideration by Congress. Both the House and Senate would have the option of introducing the item in a new bill under limited debate, where it would be subject to an up-or-down vote.

Congress passed a line-item veto law in 1996 that allowed the president to make cuts within five days of signing a bill into law. To reinstate the cuts, Congress would need to pass a separate bill that was subject to a regular presidential veto.

The Supreme Court ruled the previous line-item veto provision unconstitutional because it gave a president the power to amend a law after Congress had passed it, but Mr. Ryan said his measure would satisfy constitutional concerns.

Subcommittee members said they worried about a provision that would allow the president to question hundreds of items that would require countless committee and floor votes.

“That could really tie up this place,” Mr. Diaz-Balart said, adding that a future president could use the line-item veto as retaliation against political enemies.

Panel member Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican, said he didn’t think the measure was strong enough.

“If we want to give the president this authority, a simple majority of the Congress could block that rescission package, and I can see that happening,” he said.

Mr. Ryan’s measure, which has more than 90 co-sponsors, is still being worked on. It must pass the full committee before it can go to the House floor.

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