Presidential Line-Item Veto: Can Obama Push it Through?
Policy + Politics

Presidential Line-Item Veto: Can Obama Push it Through?

An Obama administration proposal to allow the president to cut spending already approved by Congress—a variation of the line-item veto--received a lukewarm reception on Capitol Hill on Monday. While some deficit hawks supported the idea, other powerful Democrats were not so positive. Congress would have to enact the plan for it to take effect, but legislators are always wary about shifting power to the executive branch of government.

Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which controls government spending other than entitlement programs, said he was concerned the proposal would turn Congress into a “rubber stamp” for the administration. "I have long defended the Congressional power of the purse, and, as chairman of the Appropriations Committee I have no intention of ceding that authority to the executive branch," Inouye said. "Congress has never served as a rubber stamp for any administration’s budget request, and I see no reason why we would start doing so now.”

Democratic leaders in both chambers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., praised the president but were noncommittal on the plan.

"We look forward to reviewing the president’s proposal and working together to do what’s right for our nation’s fiscal health and security, now and in the future," Pelosi said.

Meanwhile, House Budget Committee Chairman John M. Spratt Jr., D-S.C., said he would introduce the proposal as legislation and seek support for it. But he also said the plan could still be tweaked.

"We will weigh the administration’s version of expedited rescission carefully, and see what changes we may want to make," Spratt said. "In the meantime, today’s proposal is welcomed as a step forward on the path to fiscal responsibility.”

The administration's rescission proposal would allow the president to submit proposed line item cuts to a spending bill passed by Congress and signed by the president within 45 days of the bill’s enactment.  Congress would then have 25 days to vote on the cuts, without amendment and without Senate filibuster. The rescissions would be limited to items in the bill just passed and would not include entitlement spending such as Medicare and Social Security.

The proposal is a replacement for the line-item veto, enacted in 1996 but declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998. That law allowed the president to strike items from spending bills as they crossed his desk. Obama now has authority to propose rescissions, though has never done so. Congress can ignore them, and White House Budget Director Peter Orszag said the administration would not make them this year.

Orszag said in a teleconference with reporters that this new proposal would be a useful tool in cutting wasteful spending and would discourage Congress from excessive spending as well.

"It changes the optics and changes the dynamic in a potentially important way," he said.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who has authored a bill targeting earmarks that would provide similar authority to the president, said the proposal "would be a useful tool." Feingold chairs the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has scheduled a hearing on the proposals on Wednesday.

When Obama was in the Senate, he voted against a rescission proposal introduced by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. White House budget spokesman Kenneth Baer said that Gregg's plan would have allowed the president to wait up to a year to submit proposed cuts, creating uncertainty, and allowed cuts to entitlement programs.

Still, Gregg's idea failed, and though the House passed a similar bill in 2006, it died in the Senate. Orszag said that times have changed, however.

"I think the fiscal context has changed as it became necessary to combat a severe economic downturn, and as ongoing deficits have become a growing concern," Orszag said.