- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

President Bush yesterday demanded that Congress give him a line-item veto power and sent a bill to Capitol Hill that he said satisfies the constitutional concerns that sunk the last version a decade ago.

Wading into the congressional spending debate, Mr. Bush took a hard line on the practice of earmarks, which critics call pork-barrel spending, and promised to be the sheriff who will enforce discipline.

“Too many bills passed by Congress include unnecessary spending,” Mr. Bush said.

“Today, I’m sending Congress legislation that will meet [constitutional] standards and give me the authority to strip special spending and earmarks out of a bill, and then send them back to Congress for an up-or-down vote,” he said.

The move thrilled conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill, but Democratic leaders said Mr. Bush was ducking responsibility for budget deficits.

“If the president were really serious about the deficit, he would begin by submitting a balanced budget,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “Instead, President Bush has presided over the largest fiscal turnaround in our nation’s history, turning a projected $5.6 trillion surplus to a deficit of $3.3 trillion.”

White House officials said Mr. Bush, who has never vetoed a bill, needs a more finely tuned scalpel to deal with wasteful spending.

The proposal is not technically a “veto” under the Constitution, because it doesn’t require a two-thirds vote to overturn it.

Under Mr. Bush’s plan, the president could cull items from a bill and send the cut items back in a rescission package to Congress, which would have 10 days to vote on the whole package. The president could eliminate targeted tax cuts as well as spending.

“To see him putting the full weight of his office behind a specific proposal to create a constitutional line-item veto is thrilling to those of us who know when it comes to federal spending, it’s not so much bad people as bad process,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus in the House.

Mr. Pence said Mr. Bush would use the line-item veto because the “stakes are so much lower” in targeting individual spending than blocking an entire bill passed by a Republican Congress.

“There is no single reform that would do more to put our fiscal house in order than the line-item veto. The problem with federal spending is no one’s in charge, so everyone is,” he said.

House Republican leaders said they support the concept, and Senate Republican leaders went further. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill, along with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the administration thinks the time is ripe, given the interest on spending cuts on Capitol Hill. He said the fight against wasteful spending is bipartisan, so he predicted the line-item veto proposal would attract bipartisan support.

Although Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, have opposed line-item authority, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and Mr. Bush’s opponent in the 2004 election, said he supports the concept and will introduce his own proposal.

Congress passed a line-item veto in 1996, but in 1998, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that it was unconstitutional because it gave the president the power to amend a law after it had been passed by Congress. The majority ruled that sort of change must come through constitutional amendment, not law.

Under that system, the president had five days after he signed a bill to make line-item cuts. Congress could only reinstate the cuts by passing a separate bill, subject to a regular presidential veto and requiring a two-thirds vote of each chamber to overturn it.

Bush administration officials said their version doesn’t violate the Constitution because it doesn’t give the president unilateral authority. Instead, it sets up a process to push Congress to act on his recommendations.

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