Examining the dangers of the line-item veto

Derek Thurber

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The line-item veto has been sought by presidents since Ulysses S. Grant and has become a base for fiscal conservatism in recent years. Ronald Reagan was the first to introduce it as a conservative ideal and it has stuck. Now it has become a point of contention in the 2008 Presidential Campaign for the Republicans.

Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani clashed last Tuesday on this issue in a debate held in Dearborn, Mich. They both represented different sides of the issue, so who was right?

The line-item veto has the advantage of giving the president the ability to choose certain pieces of a bill passed in Congress and veto only those parts which he does not like. But with great power comes great responsibility, and the line-item veto gives very great power to the president.

Giuliani has gone against the typical fiscal conservative path that he promotes by not agreeing with the line-item veto. When a bill was passed in 1996 that gave the president the power of line-item veto, Giuliani spearheaded the effort to declare the bill unconstitutional. In 1998 he got his wish when he won the Supreme Court case that declared the line-item veto bill unconstitutional.
Romney believes that the line-item veto is a necessary and important power for the president to have. He criticizes Romney for not supporting the line-item veto, because he considers it to be a critical issue for the Republican Party.

In today’s world the line-item veto is a scary and dangerous tool. Giuliani sees the power this could wield to do terrible, unconstitutional deeds. The presidency under George W. Bush has already gained powers not meant to be in the executive branch of the government. The line-item veto would only give the presidency much more power.

The problem with the line-item veto is the same reason why it is so sought after by every president, Republican and Democratic alike. In Washington, the president pushes certain bills through Congress by taking on extra legislation that senators want. This is common practice in Washington today. With the line-item veto the president could just veto that extra legislation that he doesn’t wants when it gets to his desk to sign.

Let us say that the president wants to get a bill passed in Congress that extends the War Powers Act to allow him to decide how long the army can be at war. He does not have enough support in Congress to get this bill passed, so senators add legislation to the bill that states that those troops must be used only in peacekeeping missions unless otherwise approved by Congress.

Now the bill has enough support, so it is passed in Congress and sent to the president. Right now the president has two choices: He can veto the bill or he can pass the bill as a whole, accepting all of the terms of the bill, even those added later.

If the president were given the power of line-item veto, he could select the added legislation that says he can only have power of the troops in peacekeeping situations and veto only that phrase. Now the president has gained the power to declare war and stay at war indefinitely despite Congress.
That is a scary concept.

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