published Friday, February 10th, 2012

Massive debt shows need to give president line-item veto

It has long frustrated presidents to have to sign or veto spending legislation that includes both necessary items and waste. Signing such a bill means creating more debt; vetoing it means rejecting legitimate spending.

So presidents have often sought -- but less often received -- line-item veto authority to let them "pick and choose." And now, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has been joined by a minority of Democrats in voting for a line-item veto for President Barack Obama. The Senate should, too.

The line-item veto lets a president strike objectionable items from spending bills. That power is limited, however. Once a president removes items from a bill, the bill does not automatically become law. To preserve the constitutional principle of congressional control over spending, a bill on which the president has used the line-item veto must go back to Congress for another vote. So if congressional majorities do not agree to the changes, they can reject them.

What's to keep Congress from reinserting the wasteful spending and sending it to the president again? Nothing, perhaps, except that there will be a public spotlight on the items the president sought to remove. And if the items are genuinely wasteful, there is time for the public to urge lawmakers to drop them.

It's not necessarily in a spirit of bipartisanship that Republicans in the House are seeking to give Obama the line-item veto, any more than bipartisanship motivated Republicans in 1996 to grant that authority to President Bill Clinton. They knew then and know now that either Democrat president could use the line-item veto to remove spending Republicans favor.

But they also know a Republican president will be in office sooner or later, and will exercise the same authority. And they know that with our debt expanding beyond measure, no reasonable tool for cutting federal spending should be ignored.

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