A constitutional amendment granting the President line-item veto authority will help ensure a necessary check on a legislature that is inherently incapable of resisting the temptation to "bring home the bacon." It’s Time for Congress to Kill the Pig

President George W. Bush has put forth an ambitious agenda for his second term in office. From working to pass legislation putting the shackles on opportunistic plaintiff’s attorneys who abuse our justice system to simplifying the tax code; from winning the War on Terror to reforming Social Security, the President’s agenda is one of freedom and prosperity for the American people.

However, equally important to these broad initiatives is the President’s push to revive the line-item veto as a tool to rein in excessive government spending and help reverse a ballooning federal deficit.

In response to taxpayers’ concerns about waste and abuse in the federal budget, Congress passed the line-item veto in 1996, which ultimately went into effect in January of 1997. President Clinton used the power 82 times that year to strike specific wasteful pork projects in larger spending bills, saving taxpayers nearly $2 billion. However, in 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the line-item veto was unconstitutional. Specifically, the High Court held that the law gave too much power to the executive branch to usurp the "power of the purse" delegated to Congress in the U.S. Constitution.

Justice John Paul Stevens, authoring the majority opinion for the Court, wrote, "The act gives the president unilateral power to change the text of duly enacted statutes." In his concurrence, Justice Anthony Kennedy went further. "Failure of political will does not justify unconstitutional remedies. …The Constitution's structure requires a stability which transcends the convenience of the moment." Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, dissented.

Within hours of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Senator Dan Coats (R-IN), at the time a leading proponent of the line-item veto, proclaimed, "The Supreme Court has resurrected a pig that we thought was dead."

Deficit hawks in Congress have been contemplating new versions of the line-item veto capable of withstanding constitutional scrutiny ever since the Supreme Court ruled. But substantive discussion of the issue has never really materialized, in large part due to weakened political will that resulted from several years of budget surpluses.

That is, until now.

At his first post-election press conference last week, President Bush put the issue front and center, explaining that he is committed to working with Congress to revive a line-item veto that would "pass[ ] constitutional muster" and would help him work with the legislature to "maintain budget discipline." In fact, the Administration’s budget and legal teams have been working feverishly to do just that.

Included in the President’s fiscal 2005 budget is a provision that administration officials believe "would correct the constitutional flaw in the 1996 act." The language explicitly ties the veto to "deficit reduction," enabling the President to strike new appropriations and certain tax breaks if he determines they’re not "essential government priorities." The money saved would remain in the general treasury, and could not be shifted to fund other projects.

Opponents, led by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), argue that the President’s plan does nothing to address the High Court’s concerns. But that’s for the Court to decide, not Senator Byrd, who Citizens Against Government Waste, an organization that tracks pork-barrel spending every year, has aptly nicknamed the "King of Pork," and who was also the first to point the finger at President Bush for expanding deficits.

With the federal deficit currently at a record high, Congress should approve the President’s plan. This would undoubtedly go a long way toward reversing the dangerous government spending spree that has largely contributed to a whopping $422 billion deficit for 2004.

Moreover, to ensure the line-item veto’s survival, Congress should act on the advice of Justice Stevens, who wrote in the Supreme Court’s majority opinion, ''If there is to be a new procedure in which the President will play a different role in determining the final text of what may become a law, such change must come not by legislation but through the amendment procedures set forth in ... the Constitution.''

A constitutional amendment granting the President line-item veto authority will help ensure a necessary check on a legislature that is inherently incapable of resisting the temptation to "bring home the bacon."

Or, put more bluntly, it will help kill the pig once and for all.

November 11, 2004
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