Congress is moving to give the president increased power to squeeze some of the pork out of politics by enacting a line-item veto bill. The nation would gain in this historic ceding of authority from the legislative to the executive branch.
Last year about this time the House and Senate passed markedly different bills to permit a president to veto specific items in appropriations and tax measures. The idea had figured prominently in the "contract with America" that Republicans offered the electorate in 1994 as the basis for their legislative program.
The line-item veto would replace the requirement that forces a president to veto a bill in its entirety if he wants to eliminate any of its separate provisions. That all-or-nothing approach has been a political cornucopia for Congress, allowing it to fund pet projects of dubious worth or provide tax breaks uniquely tailored to the needs of powerful friends. In fact, the special tax favors are almost always inserted into tax bills.
Presidents began calling for the line-item veto more than a century ago. Congress, until now, has always resisted.
Some congressional Democrats may continue to fight the proposal, and there's even some talk of a Senate filibuster to try to block it.
Under the House measure, which the Republican leadership has agreed will be the version put before Congress, the president could veto specific items from appropriations bills and send the vetoes back to Congress in a package. He could also have a line-item veto over any tax breaks designed for fewer than 100 beneficiaries. Congress would then have 30 days to decide which vetoed items it wanted to try to save. As with any presidential veto, a two-thirds vote by Congress could override.
Governors of 43 states have line-item veto authority, and President Clinton, a former governor, strongly supports it at the federal level. Republicans who had balked at giving a Democratic president this power seem inclined to approve it this year. There's no telling how effective such a law would be in reducing the budget deficit. But it could help cut way back on the favors that come out of the pork barrel, and that's a reform worth having.