The line-item veto: A constitutional amendment?

Having jumped off a cliff before on religion (and regretting it), I’m going to do something similarly inflammatory. I’m going to discuss American politics.

If you care, go ahead and read the full article.

For years, I’ve wondered about the feasibility of adding a presidential line-item veto to the Constitution of the United States of America. Every now and then, you hear about the line-item veto in the news, but there’s not much seriousness to it.

I won’t rehash old arguments on it; I strongly support it as a matter of principle and would like to see it happen.

A quick search on the Library of Congress website shows there is an amendment offered in the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s apparently stuck in committee.

Not being a lawyer, I don’t know what it would take (beyond the details available in the Constitution itself, Article V, for an amendment; I’m not that dumb) to get the bill acted on and sent to the Congress for a full vote. But I would like to see it happen.

I’m probably going to write my congressional representative about it

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. If you feel this is a good thing, you might want to write your rep too.

9 thoughts on “The line-item veto: A constitutional amendment?”

  1. I’ve gone back and forth on this. How do you think this would impact American Politics positively and negatively?
    On one side I don’t like all the pork barrel stuff that gets stuck on to bills and can’t be removed by the president but at the same time when there is a president I don’t agree with in the white house (I’m speaking in general, not about GWB), this could be used to cherry pick issues to sign.
    It is definitely a shifting in the balance of power towards the white house. The question would be, is it needed or better? I’m not sure.

  2. There was an interesting editorial about this yesterday or the day before in the Wall Street Journal. The summary of the guy’s opinion is that while a line item veto would get the job done, it would be much harder than just repealing a provision of a Nixon-era law that eliminated the presiden’ts authority to deny funding for various programs he didn’t like.
    In other words, the president used to have more power to simply direct federal agencies not to fund certain congressional earmarks he didn’t like, which has pretty much the effect of the line item veto. However, much of this power was gutted as Nixon was leaving office. It would be a simple, and constitutionally clear, matter to simply repeal that gutting.
    I suggest if you care enough about the issue to write your congressman, try and find a copy of the editorial and see if you think what it suggests is a good idea. Perhaps that would be a better congressional suggestion.

  3. As Peter said, it would shift balance too much between the branches, pretty much giving the President budget power, which is by design solely the realm of the House (the Senate in theory just has concurring powers in budget bills). It sounds nice, I agree, to be able to cherry pick out stoopid earmarks (like those bridges in Alaska).
    But a couple issues here to put that in prespective: one person’s pork is another’s funding for a research program vital to industry in their district. Just because the press says that it’s for studying pig poop doesn’t mean that knowing what waste runoff from pig farms into the water supply isn’t important.
    Secondly, those bridges would have cost about $2 billion dollars, and were probably among the most expensive earmarks in that budget. That’s a lot of money, but it’s peanuts in the scheme of the entire budget (several trillon dollars worth). It’s even small change in the fraction that’s discretionary spending.
    More important would be to modify the bill process to stop putting bills as amendments to bills that are completely about different things. For example, the RealID Act was tacked onto an appropriations bill to fund something for soldiers in Iraq. It passed 100-0 in the Senate because no one wanted to vote against the soldiers. There are tons of similar examples.
    I guess my prespective is that just because the appropriations system is broken is no reason to give new power to the President. It’s better to fix the system at its source: make Congress actually start dealing with bills in a sensible way. And it’s easier than passing a Constitutional amendment in 34 states without unknown side effects.

  4. I would agree with Hanspeter. I don’t want to give the president that much power, and I don’t think it would help that much anyway. However, I absolutely deplore the practice of tacking unrelated items on to bills that will pass just to get your pet project in with no discussion. Not to go crazy and say 1 item per bill, but something has to be done with how a telecomunnications bill will contain legislation for texas schoolbook spending and a defense bill will also be giving enviromental input to a power plant in southern washington state.
    Congress needs to fix itself, but I guess that is why I have some interest in a President line-item… I have No faith in congress for them to fix themselves. Maybe it would turn out the president vetos the other parties pork, so the other party doesn’t let the president’s parties pork leave congress. It’s nice to dream, isn’t it?

  5. Seems to me a strong president could fix the issue by promising to veto any bill that does not stick to a single topic. If Congress fights it out with him it could take a few vetoes to get the point across – but a campaign for popular support could help avoid such a fight.
    My 2 cents: if there’s a way of fixing this problem within the existing system, then that is better than passing new laws and hoping for the best.
    P.S. I don’t pretend to know what’s going on – just an interesting discussion I stumbled across while reading about XUL.

  6. Hasn’t the Supreme Court ruled that line-item veto is unconstitutional?
    (From Alex: As a law passed by Congress and signed by the President, yes. That’s why I’m thinking of an amendment to the Constitution. The Supreme Court can’t nullify that.)

  7. Imagine you have a Republican president with the line item veto and he gets a budget bill with hundreds of ‘earmarks’. Now imagine that a midterm election is coming up. The president could then veto all the Democratic earmarks and allow all Republican earmarks, just to influence the elections.
    The current system is corrupt but at least it’s somewhat fairly corrupt partisan-wise. The party in power still gets most of the earmarks but there is some give and take. In theory, government programs are funded on the basis of a predetermined formula that could be based, for example, on a state

  8. I believe the line item veto is needed not to shift power to the White House, but to shift power away from big money lobbying determining what actually Congress does. Vetoes can be overridden if a vetoed item is truly worthy. A worthy side effect would be to have Congress doing less, and thus spending less borrowed money. They could be more focused spending less time on unworthy paybacks.
    It might be better to first eliminate the unrelated amendment piggybacks first. Without them there might be little need for line item vetoes.

  9. There was briefly a line-item veto during the Clinton administration but judges ruled it unconstitutional. Use your Wikipedia keyword bookmarklet to read Line item veto.
    (From Alex: I believe I covered this already, as the main reason I want a constitutional amendment. I think it’s a good idea.)

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