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Pioneer Editorial: House steps forward with line-item veto

The U.S. House moved in the right direction on Thursday when it approved in a 247-172 vote an important budget tool for President Bush and future presidents -- the line-item veto.

The new version is weaker than the original line-item veto authority approved by Congress but stricken down in 1998 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The new version would allow the president to single out items contained in appropriations bills that reach his desk for signature, and would require Congress to vote within 14 days on those items again. It also could be used against increases in benefit programs and tax breaks aimed at a single beneficiary.

Under the proposal, it would take a simple majority in both chambers to approve the items over the president's veto.

The measure differs from what the court found unconstitutional by sending the items back for a re-vote, rather than simply crossing them off, which the court found as the executive branch usurping the legislative branch.

With a Congress currently enamored with special interest funding through pork-barrel spending called "earmarks," moving forward with even a weaker version of the line-time veto is an important step that hopefully will find ground also now in the Senate.

Most earmarks are slipped into massive spending bills that, without line-item veto authority, the president must sign for the overall good of the bill to fund government. But such special interest funding as reached new lows in recent years, with projects which would in no way receive federal funding if based only on their merits.

Citizens Against Government Waste identified 9,963 pork-barrel projects costing a record $29 billion in the fiscal 2006 appropriations bills. They included $1 million for the Waterfree Urinal Conservation Initiative, $550,000 for the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., $500,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum in Sparta, N.C., and $500,000 for the Arctic Winter Games in Alaska. Of course, the poster child is the multimillion-dollar "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska that will serve 50 people.

Earmarks have played a central role in a wave of ethics and lobbying scandals on Capitol Hill, proving that the line-item veto is more than just about saving taxpayer dollars.

The line-item veto is allowed in Minnesota, and has been used by governors to correct legislation -- either to avoid duplication or in finding that the funding doesn't meet goals set for state appropriations.

It's time that the same tool be available for the president, who must deal with massive spending bills.

President Bush, after the House vote, said the line-item veto "is a critical tool that will help rein in wasteful spending and bring greater transparency to the budget process."

And both are badly needed.