- The Washington Times
Thursday, June 17, 2010

President Obama’s call for a modified line-item veto ran into the buzz saw of congressional prerogative on Thursday, with a swell of bipartisan lawmakers telling the White House to use the veto authority it already has in the Constitution rather than take more power from Congress.

The White House has urged Congress to pass new line-item authority as a key way to force Congress to trim spending. But Republicans and Democrats on the House Budget Committee told the White House that Mr. Obama should bargain with Congress to lower spending using existing tools.

“The president isn’t restrained by present law to veto a bill and suggest if you take these out I’ll sign the bill,” said Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat. “We can essentially do what’s in the bill now, has the president tried that?”

It’s the latest fight over spending and comes even as growing debt and near-record deficits have pushed Congress to consider cuts while the White House pushes for more stimulus spending.

This White House, like previous presidents, says Mr. Obama needs extra tools because Congress can too easily slip in bad spending projects.

Jeffrey Liebman, acting deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said presidents are reluctant to veto bills over small projects tucked inside. He said the ability to highlight individual bad spending makes it easier to make cuts.

“A veto’s a very blunt tool. You often have legislation that needs to get passed soon, and you run up against the question of whether you veto a whole bill,” he told the committee.

He said the biggest effect will come in scaring lawmakers away from slipping bad spending into bills.

An actual line-item veto was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998. Since then, presidents of both parties have sought to find a constitutional way to force Congress to act on spending cuts.

Mr. Obama’s proposal earlier this year would let the president send a package of specific cuts back to Congress in the days after a bill passes. Congress would then have a set period of time to hold an up-or-down vote.

Since the final spending decision rests with Congress, some lawmakers say it meets the constitutional test.

The bills are gaining support slowly. The House version, introduced by Budget Committee Chairman John M Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat, had 20 co-sponsors when it was submitted late last month, though he said they’ve gained a dozen more. The Senate version, introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, has eight co-sponsors, including three Republicans.

But key Democrats such as House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat, have been harshly critical of the proposal.

In the House Budget Committee, Republicans seemed more inclined to support the measure than Democrats, though they too said the president already has authority to submit cuts. Under existing rules, the president can submit a package of rescissions, though there is no expedited process and it takes at least one-fifth of members to support a cut for it to face a vote.

Republican House leaders have promised Mr. Obama that they will find that support if the president submits rescissions.

“Please, send us some spending cuts. This is not a fruitless exercise. You will have the support you need,” said Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the committee’s ranking Republican.

But the White House says it doesn’t believe the Congress will act favorably.

Mr. Liebman said they have submitted their proposed cuts through the regular spending process, and said that’s where they’ll focus their energy over the next few months.

Even lawmakers who said they support the idea are worried about Mr. Obama’s specific proposal, saying it gives him the power to tie Congress in knots by submitting a bunch of bills all at the same time. And some are worried that it doesn’t also apply to tax cuts.

Mr. Liebman said they wanted to keep the tool focused on cutting spending, and applying it to tax cuts would be tougher because tax cuts require rewriting of laws.

Mr. Obama’s proposal is similar to one President George W. Bush announced in 2006, which passed the House on the strength of Republican votes but never got a vote in the Senate.

Mr. Spratt, current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and current House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, all voted against that proposal.

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