One Toke Over the Line-Item


Congress has approved the line-item veto, which grants the President the ability to delete wasteful or unnecessary items from spending bills. A stronger version of the veto, passed in 1996 as part of Republicans' Contract with America, was later struck down by the Supreme Court concluding "the procedures authorized by the line-item veto act are not authorized by the Constitution." Under the new, watered-down version it would take a simple majority in both the House and the Senate to approve the items over the president's objections.

Back in October, Veronique de Rugy and Nick Gillespe rebuffed Bush for showing no leadership on spending reform, all with a halcyon grin and plenty of talk about limited government. De Rugy followed with a remedial math lesson for the President (… The FY2007 budget will supposedly save taxpayers from $14.5 billion in wasteful programs, but this represents just 0.5 percent of the $2.77 trillion budget. Prey tell me, how does that equal fiscal dicipline?) and Gillespie likened GWB to another triple-initialed big spender.

Sure, the $27 billion of wasteful spending that could be prevented each year by a line-item veto is a start, but total discretionary spending is up 35.8 percent in the first five years of the Bush administration. That's more than any other president's pushed for, or consented to, in recent history [.PDF].

The line-item veto is a step in the right direction, but certainly not the be-all-end-all of fiscal discipline.

NEXT: The SCOTUS Busts a Cap

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  1. The wasteful spending of those Democrats that control the House and Senate must be stopped!

    Oh wait…

  2. Didn’t the Confederate Constitution have a clause explicitly enabling the line item veto?

  3. The line-item veto is a step in the right direction…

    Seeing as President Bush has failed to veto even one piece of legislation (as far as I know anyway) I don’t see how a line-item veto will make a difference, at least until 2009.

    total discretionary spending is up 35.8 percent in the first five years of the Bush administration…

    I voted for Bush twice (I know, I know) but this is exactly the reason why I would not vote for him again even if I had the chance. Putting the border, Iraq war, and civil liberties stuff aside, I still think he’s one of the worst presidents in recent history based on spending alone.

  4. The line item veto is unnecessary, and “giving” the President this power without Constitutional amendment is wrong. Congress already has the power to make its bills SHORTER, and to avoid the temptation to toss everything and the kitchen sink (RealID, anyone?) into “omnibus” bills. Congress could draft and pass shorter bills, which included no more than a few closely related provisions or line-items. Congress members would less often find themselves having to vote for (or against) a bill because of some desirable (objectionable) rider. The President’s veto and Congress’ floor votes would exert finer-grained control over what became law. Perhaps, being shorter, the laws themselves would even be clearer, and more likely to have been read by the congress members and senators who voted for them!

    Of course, to keep up with the current pace of legislative “production,” our elected officials in DC would have to pass hundreds or thousands MORE bills each year — the overhead burden might soon become intolerable, forcing congress to slacken the pace, and to concentrate on only the most urgent and important matters.

    I ask you, would that be a bad thing? But will Congress take such a step, which is completely constitutional and completely in its power NOW?

    No. They’d rather busy themselves trying to please the President by crafting a way to sidestep the Constitution and give him more “power,” even while preserving their own power to produce legislation in bulk.

    We need to fire these guys.

  5. the Other Mark:


  6. Yes, Bush has really covered the bases for ensuring universal dislike of his administration, hasn’t he? It’s so bad that sometimes I wonder if he read I, Claudius and is playing the King Log role. Which would be a bad thing, because that means our Nero is next. Egad.

  7. Dear Mr. Prez:

    Use the veto pen just once for purely budgetary reasons. You’ll love what it can do for your ability to restrain spending.

    Your Pal,


  8. Didn’t the Confederate Constitution have a clause explicitly enabling the line item veto?

    Apparently, yes.

    I found that fascinating, as I had never given much thought to the Confederate Constitution. They also eliminated the “General Welfare” clause because they figured it would allow all kinds of government meddling and intervention.

    Too bad that it’s politically incorrect to assume that the Confederacy was anything but a bunch of racist hicks because they certainly had some interesting thoughts on government. Of course slavery sucked, but that goes without saying, doesn’t it?

  9. “Congress has approved the line-item veto…”

    You’ve heard of the Senate, right?

  10. 3rdpoliceman beat me to linking to the Constitution of the Confederate States, but I will post the text of the relevant provision below (and yes, there is a line-item veto):

    Every bill which shall have passed both Houses, shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President of the Confederate States. . . . The President may approve any appropriation and disapprove any other appropriation in the same bill. In such case he shall, in signing the bill, designate the appropriations disapproved; and shall return a copy of such appropriations, with his objections, to the House in which the bill shall have originated; and the same proceedings shall then be had as in case of other bills disapproved by the President.

    Comparing constitutions is always interesting. Examining this one is especially fascinating, because it was a specific attempt to improve on the U.S. Constitution, albeit that some of the “improvements” were double plus ungood.

  11. If this gets passed by the Senate and gets the approval of the SCOTUS, isn’t the line-item veto just an excuse for congress to toss in any old earmark they can dream up? No other congresscritter would have to be persuaded to vote for it since the prez could just cross it off anyway. Sure, just toss in a million here and a billion there. If the prez doesn’t like it he’ll axe it, right? Shit. After that they’ll approve anything. And then we’re in BIG trouble. The prez disapproves 10,000 earmarks in the bill, but then congress overrides it with a simple majority because there’s some verbiage or other in there about helping children and this bill was just too important to let die.

    I’d much prefer to see them pass a law requiring 2/3 congressional approval for ANY new spending. Or even a law that requires everything in the bill to be related. Hell, I’d even prefer the status quo to this.

    The line-item veto is just a convienient method for politicians to place the blame for truly massive spending bills on someone else. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  12. As commenters above have noted, the likely outcome of this bill would be 1) that Congress would hurl as many earmarks as possible into its bills, since the responsibility for fiscal efficiency would be abdicated to the President; and 2) the President, in the interests of promoting his policy agenda in Congress, would veto almost nothing (much as he has done so far).

    The present system obscures the fact that pork is beneficial in the short term (the eventual payback is of course unpleasant) to both the legislative and executive branches as it functions pretty much as a multidirectional bribe. And of course, passing a piece of legislation by majority vote is what Congress already did in the first place. The line item veto is nothing but a way to further muddy the waters of fiscal responsibility while allowing both branches to pass the buck back and forth. A “step in the right direction”, indeed.

  13. I’d much prefer to see them pass a law requiring 2/3 congressional approval for ANY new spending. Or even a law that requires everything in the bill to be related. Hell, I’d even prefer the status quo to this.

    Yet another strength of the Confederate Constitution – it included both of those ideas. I think they’re great ones by the way.

    In CA, ballot propositions are required to be limited to a single issue. Even though we get a lot of wacky ass propositions every year, at least you know what each one is about. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if each prop. had dozens of “riders.”

    We also require I believe, a 2/3 majority to pass any new tax or tax increase in the State Leg. Although that’s never stopped them from spending like drunken sailors, or the Gov. from borrowing…So much for starving the beast I guess.

  14. Yeah, starving the beast is bullshit as a method to control spending. Congress has an unlimited credit limit, and it has shown time and again it’s not afraid to use it. Perhaps the only thing that could limit spending would be a Balanced Budget Amendment so that people will directly feel the cost of government spending through the higher taxes necessary, and then vote accordingly.

  15. James Anderson Merritt et al-

    Short, focused bills would be nice.

    So would a “retirement provision” which established a specific numerical limit on the number of laws in effect at any given time. New additions would require deletion of some other “less crucial” law.

    My own plan would be to make it an impeachable offense for any Legislator to vote on a Bill which he has not read or does not understand. (Patriot Act, anyone?)

    I’ll be here, holding my breath.

  16. What better way, prior to a congressional election, for the Republican congress to show that it’s against pork? …without actually cutting the budget, that is.

  17. The Line Item Veto would give the President the power to threaten a Congressman with a veto of his pet project, if he doe not get in line behind the President’s pet projects.

    A better way to cut spending would be a “line-item vote.” Ban omnibus spending bills, and require a vote on every single expenditure. Congress would run out of time before they spent all our money.

  18. “The Line Item Veto would give the President the power to threaten a Congressman with a veto of his pet project, if he doe not get in line behind the President’s pet projects.”

    Bingo. Why do you think Bush wants it? He’s demonstrated no interest in spending restraint but an enormous amount of interest in gaining as much power as he possibly can.

  19. Meta Rule #1:

    Rules designed to constrain rule makers from making rules are the first rules to be ignored.

    There is no procedural constraint that will stop popular action. People love congress critters that bring home the bacon. Like viruses, they have mutated into something procedure is no longer equipped to handle. If you can’t stop the bridge to nowhere, you can’t stop anything.

  20. I have mixed feelings on the line item veto. I understand all of the concerns raised, but I also see the potential. I know that some state governors have line item veto power. Can anybody tell me how it works in practice?

    Jason is right that procedural fixes cannot stop a truly popular atrocity. But procedural fixes can at least slow some of it, and slowing something is a very good thing if that leaves enough time for an opposing force to arouse itself. It won’t happen every time, but I’d rather have good procedures than not have them.

    So, while procedures are not a panacea, let’s not ignore the fact that good procedures are the sort of thing that it’s better to have than not have.

    I’m just not sure whether or not this counts as a good procedure. How does it work in practice at the state level?

  21. JL,

    What you said. I think most Americans are un-American; that is, they don’t give a shit about liberty. They’re just a bunch of fucking dirty thieves and mooches.

  22. Oh, I forgot control freaks–a bunch of evil control freaks.

    Imagine a world without control freaks. It would be peace on earth.

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