Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Line Item Veto Is Back!

With a vengeance!

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed--by a vote of 254 to 173--the Expedited Legislative Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act of 2011. The bill would give the President a pseudo-kind of line item veto power: after the President received a spending bill, he would--under this legislation--have some 45 days to propose specific cuts. Congress would then be required to have up or down votes on each proposal.

It sounds kind of complicated, but the basic idea is that given these circumstances, legislators would be less likely to load up bills with pork, since specific bits could be targeted and exposed to public scrutiny. In the past, Representative Bellweather of Big Tobacco State might--because of the committee he is on--put a provision into a spending bill that grants his state twenty million dollars to fund the Chewing Tobacco Hall of Fame. It would be buried deep in the bill and other Reps wouldn't talk much about it, for fear that their own pet projects might be exposed.

If this bill becomes law, then it would be the President who could expose Bellweather's special project. The President could ask for it to be cut and then Congress would actually have to vote on that specific provision alone. And the bonus: cuts in spending are automatically applied to deficit reduction.

It should come as no surprise that this bill's sponsor is Paul Ryan. Nor should it be all that shocking who many of the co-sponsors are, for those that keep tabs on this sort of stuff. But here's something that's surprising: passage of the bill was truly bipartisan (not that pretend bipartisan, where two members of the other party cross  over), which means--of course--that so was the opposition. 157 Republicans voted for the bill, 41 opposed it. 57 Democrats voted for it, 132 voted against it. That's pretty, maybe the most cooperation we've seen in Congress in seven or more years. Wonder where your Rep was on this? Here are the votes.

Interestingly enough, even though most Democrats voted against the bill, the Administration supports it:
The White House, in a statement, said it "strongly supports" passage of the bill, praising it for "helping to eliminate unnecessary spending and discouraging waste." It said the bill was similar to a line-item veto proposal that Obama sent to Congress in May, 2010.
Which brings us to the criticism of the bill: the idea that it gives the President too much power and/or that it's Unconstitutional on its face. But Ryan was very clever, with regard to the last. This bill was crafted to specifically avoid the problems the 1996 line item veto bill encountered (and ultimately led to the SCOTUS declaring it unconstitutional). The Court found that the Line Item Veto Act of 1996 allowed the President to essentially nullify acts of Congress. In Ryan's version, the President can only question specific items; it falls to Congress to remove or keep them.

As to the idea that the bill gives the President more power, there is little question that this is true. Audrey Hudson at Human Events details some of the negative reactions to this expansion:
[Hal] Rogers warned that the bill would weaken powers that the founding fathers gave Congress over the executive branch, particularly the “power of the purse.” 
[Norman] Dicks said Congress would make a “serious mistake” if they gave any president the line-item veto authority. 
“You are transferring it to a monarchy,” said Rep. Don Young of Alaska, one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the House. “Shame on you, shame on you!”
But these objections fail to account for the trap Ryan has cleverly set for the President and Congress: cutting specific programs means cutting overall spending, period. The bill--if its current form passes the Senate and is signed into law--forces the government to justify expenditures as necessary and prevents it from going back and spending cut monies somewhere else. It forces the government to budget its expenditures, something that it has always had--in my opinion--a fiduciary obligation to do, but simply has never done.

Of course, the bill still has to get through the Senate, and as we all know it's hard to find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, anywhere. Aside from the UN, of course.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. It is a real shame (even if understandable at this point) that Ryan decided not to run this cycle. The man is extremely impressive when he talks economics. And he isn't as extreme as Paul, for example (I'll disregard Paul's views on FP for a sec :) )