Pioneer Editorial: Restraint in spending by line-item veto
Stymied by inaction by Congress, President Bush on Friday issue the threat that he'd use his power to veto spending bills if Congress doesn't eventually do a federal budget with his recommendations.
The only problem -- it may be an idle threat, as in more than five years in office, President Bush hasn't vetoed anything, spending or otherwise.
That's why it's important that the president be given additional tools to work with in guiding Congress down a path of controlled spending. He has pledged to cut the federal deficit in half by 2009, but that target will be unreachable unless Congress controls spending or raises revenues. Last week, feuding House Republicans so dismayed GOP leaders that they pulled a $2.8 trillion budget blueprint from the floor. That gave cause on Friday for President Bush to warn that "if necessary, I will enforce spending restraint through the exercise of the veto."
But what is really needed is the additional tool of the line-item veto.
The president, following up on a State of the Union pledge, in March said he is now asking Congress "to give me the authority to strip special spending and earmarks out of a bill, and then send them back to Congress for an up or down vote." Such authority, he said, would "reduce wasteful spending, reduce the budget deficit, and ensure that the taxpayer dollars are spent wisely."
At least 11 presidents from both parties have called for such authority, and Democrat President Bill Clinton actually enjoyed the privilege until the Supreme Court in 1998 struck down the two-year-old law, saying it gave the president unilateral power to change the text of statues enacted by the legislative branch. President Bush's version would pass muster, as the line-item-vetoed measure would go back to Congress for a final up or down say.
In recent years, appropriations bills have become flooded with special interest funding which is questionable at best. Today called 'earmarks," in a prior era it was labeled as "pork-barrel spending." High profile examples included the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" set in a remote Alaskan corner at a cost of millions of dollars.
Currently, the president can only blanket veto a whole bill and is perhaps why he has yet to issue a veto. With the line-item veto, he can score out unnecessary spending -- which still must be re-approved by Congress -- without endangering the bill itself.
Meanwhile, Congress must buckle down and determine the spending priorities that Americans need, not just want, and find a way to fund them without further putting the federal budget in such a deep deficit from which our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will never see daylight.