- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The House has taken the unusual move of agreeing to cede some of its highly guarded purse string power to the White House, voting Wednesday to give the president a modified line-item veto on spending bills.

The rare bipartisan measure would give President Obama the authority he and many predecessors have sought: the ability to single out and cut specific items in appropriations bills. Presidents currently must sign or veto such bills in their entirety.

Congress would have final approval of any spending bills revised by the president.

The measure, sponsored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, and the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, calls for savings from presidential cuts to be used to lower the deficit.

Supporters say a line-item veto would provide another tool to help reign-in excessive spending at a time when annual deficits run more than $1 trillion. Opponents say it would give the executive branch too much power and may violate the Constitution.

“This is an attempt to take one more step for the taxpayer to clean up the system on how we spend hard- working taxpayers’ dollars,” Mr. Ryan said. “When we pass large spending bills, we vote on things we’re not even necessarily sure we’re voting on.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

This isn’t the first attempt to give the president a line-item veto. A Republican-controlled Congress passed line-item veto authority in 1996. President Clinton used the authority 82 times, and Congress overrode his veto in 38 cases.

But in 1998 the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional, saying that Congress — not the executive branch — wields the authority to control federal spending.

The current bill’s authors say it meets constitutional muster because Congress could reject any spending cuts proposed by the president.

Under terms of the measure, the president would have up to 45 days after an appropriations bill passed to propose discretionary spending cuts of any amount. The revised measure then would receive expedited floor consideration in Congress and an automatic up-or-down vote without amendments.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers opposed the measure, saying it would upset the Constitution’s delicate power balance between the executive and legislative branches.

“Our Founding Fathers had seen firsthand what an absolute authority could do when wielding too much influence — particularly over spending and taxation,” the Kentucky Republican said. “The Framers would surely shake their heads at the idea of transferring this much authority to the executive branch.”

Mr. Van Hollen disagreed, saying Congress would have the final say in any spending cuts recommended by the president.

“Are we giving the president a little more power? Well, only if you say that it’s more power to recommend to Congress some savings to the taxpayer and that we will then vote on them,” he said. “It seems to me that’s just basic responsibility.”

The bill passed by a vote of 254-173, with 197 Republicans joining 57 Democrats in support. Forty-one Republicans and 132 Democrats opposed the measure.

The vote caused some oddities in the tally. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California broke ranks with her fellow House Democratic leaders and supported the measure, as Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Democratic Caucus Chairman John B. Larson of Connecticut voted against it.

A similar version of the bill was filed last year in the Senate by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, and has 42 co-sponsors.

“Having spearheaded this issue for more than two decades, I believe that today we are close to getting it done,” Mr. McCain said after the House vote. “The ball is now in the Senate’s court.”



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