Bush's Line-Item Veto Idea
In principle, I like the idea of a line-item veto. As with most things, however, the devil's in the details, and there are quite a few details in the president's new plan that I find troublesome.
Under Bush's proposal, unveiled on Monday, the president would be able to excise individual provisions from spending bills, after which the list of vetoed items would be sent back to Congress, "which could then reinstate them by majority vote, rather than the traditional two-thirds margin." Congress would have ten days to act on the president's proposed cuts. This "veto-lite" idea is designed specifically to get around the objections of the Supreme Court, which struck down a previous line-item veto law in 1998.
The New York Times says of the plan "Even though only a majority vote would be needed to override, members of Congress might find it more difficult to vote for questionable items once they stood by themselves instead of lying buried in the depths of larger legislation."
[Note: Also posted at TMV.]
Over at the Washington Post, Michael Fletcher adds that Bush's proposal will be introduced in the Senate by Bill Frist, Mitch McConnell and John McCain. Senator John Kerry, who spoke in favor of the line-item veto during the presidential campaign in 2004, introduced a measure yesterday which his office called "no different" from that now favored by the president.
Here's the problem. This president hasn't vetoed a single solitary spending bill (or any other bill) passed by the (Republican-controlled) Congress since his inauguration. Arguing that he is committed to fiscal discipline is beyond ludicrous, considering the pork-stuffed budget bills and highway legislation he's signed into law in recent months. Offering him a line-item veto hardly seems like a good solution to his aversion to wielding the responsibility and power afforded to him under the Constitution.
This proposal offers the president a hefty opportunity for partisan mischief. As long as the president's party controls Congress, the simple majority override rule would allow the excision of any and all spending projects proposed by the congressional minority - while I am all for the reduction of earmarks, I'm for doing so across the board, not in a patently unfair and partisan way. I would favor instead some proposals now moving through Congress under which legislators could object to specific earmarks, which would then have to jump a 60-vote hurdle to remain in the spending bill. As the Times notes, this would likely make specific provisions harder to slip through, while at the same time removing at least a major portion of the likelihood of partisanship (since any senator could lodge the objections).
There are better solutions to earmark-reduction at this time than a line-item veto; given his track record on fiscal matters, I cannot support this proposal from the president.