Line Item Veto
The line item veto is a debate that is only really relevant to the United States. The US Constitution gives Congress, as the legislative branch of government the power of the purse. This means that all taxation and spending decisions (appropriations of federal government money for particular purposes) must be authorized by both houses of Congress in legislative bills that are sent to the President for signature or veto. Often appropriations bills are enormously long and complicated, containing thousands of individual items of appropriation, many of which the President has asked for in his budget request, but some of which he disagrees with. In particular, the practice of earmarking, whereby individual Congressmen insert appropriations requests of benefit to some of their constituents into large spending bills, has been criticised as wasteful and an example of “pork barrel” politics, whereby politicians use taxpayers money to buy support back home (link to earmarks debate). Government spending would be lower and more effective if such items were removed from appropriations bills, yet at the moment the President has no means of doing so; he must either sign the bill in its entirety or send it back to Congress for reconsideration. In practice, Presidents since Ronald Reagan have always signed such bills (they can sign it but ask Congress to reconsider some details, but the legislature has no obligation to debate or vote on such rescission requests, and so this has no impact in reality).
Presidents have for decades asked for the power to cancel individual items of appropriations, with Ronald Reagan being particular vigorous in his demands for line-item veto authority. Technically the power is not one of absolute veto but means that when signing a bill a President would be able to notify Congress of his intention not to spend one or more items of appropriation within it. The campaign for a line-item veto was particularly strong in the mid-1990s when federal budget deficits concentrated minds on the need to combat wasteful spending, something that is once again relevant. It was a provision in the Republican’s winning 1994 Contract With America manifesto[[Republican candidates for the House of Representatives, The Contract with America (1994), Manifesto Portal, http://manifestoindex.blogspot.com/2011/04/contract-with-america-1994-by.html accessed 5/5/11]], and enacted in 1996. Under the Line Item Veto Act President Clinton vetoed 82 items of spending from the 1997 appropriations bills, representing $1.9 billion of savings over five years; in one case Congress overrode his decision by majority votes in each chamber. However, the Act was challenged in federal court by two groups who would have benefited from appropriations that Clinton had vetoed, and in 1998 the Supreme Court found the Line Item Veto Act to be unconstitutional as Congress was not allowed to give up some of its powers to the executive branch.[[Clinton, President of the United States, et al. v. City of New York et al. No.97-1374, United States Supreme Court, 1998, http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar_case?case=4447838344519582856&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr accessed 5/5/11]]
Since 1998 there have been several attempts to revisit the issue, with significant proposals in 2006 and 2009 of new bills that attempted to provide the President with line-item veto power in ways that could be considered constitutional. These failed to become law and it is possible that the only way to create such a power is by amending the US Constitution itself (as the Supreme Court decision noted in 1998). As the federal deficit has once again grown and government waste has become a major political issue, there are renewed calls for a line-item veto to be introduced.
This is potentially quite a technical debate but speakers would be well advised to base their case upon the main principles at stake. It is worth noting that the 1996 Act allowed Clinton the power to cancel not only items in appropriations bills but also tax breaks affecting only small numbers of people. And it gave him authority to cancel items directing government expenditure within committee reports accompanying spending bills, which by convention have been accepted by Presidents as binding in the same way as appropriations in Acts are. Whether a proposed Constitutional amendment would have the same scope is a matter for argument among experts. Although the potential for the veto is important most spending not through appropriations at all, but on entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security that are legislated in different ways and which would not be covered by either the 1996 Act or more recent proposals to enhance Presidential budgeting power.
Please cast your vote after you've read the arguments.
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Will mean fiscal responsibility
Earmarks are often an abuse by congress
Prevent last minute omnibus appropriations bills
Presidents from the 1790s to 1974 had an impoundment power not to spend money which Congress had appropriated. This power was lost in 1974, with increasingly bloated budgets and pork barrel spending the result.[[Prepared statement of Hon. Phil English, A Representative in Congress from the State of Pennsylvania, Item veto constitutional amendment hearing before the subcommittee on the constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary House of Representatives, 23/3/00, p15, http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/judiciary/hju65012.000/hju65012_0f.htm accessed 5/5/11]]
Line item veto is a power that state governors already have
Many state assemblies did not originally meet every year, so it was natural that the Governor had to have the ability to adjust spending priorities in changing circumstances. And the Presidency has much more power and money at its disposal than any Governor, creating opportunities for abuse that just don’t exist at state level. Finally, it is worth noting that line-item veto power does not always work smoothly at state level, with courts often having to rule on whether the executive has exceeded its authority in cases that often come down to fine distinctions between appropriations, tax credits, entitlements and policy choices.
Will damage separation of powers
Even if earmarks were abandoned by congress no longer using them, that would in many ways upset the balance of power between the branches of government more than a line-item veto, because then the President would be able to determine much more broadly how to spend taxpayers’ money, rather than being limited to deleting individual items he finds unjustifiable.
Potential for abuse of power
Has made little difference in the past
The constitution should not be amended
What do you think?