Clinton Poised to Use Line-Item Veto for 1st Time
President Clinton will use his new line-item veto power for the first time today to strike down special-interest tax and spending provisions hidden in the balanced-budget package he just crafted with Congress, senior administration officials said Sunday.
Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, confirming the president’s decision to exercise the selective power, said the action will “create a useful and, I think, potentially very strong deterrent to people including inappropriate measures in future legislations.”
“He’ll use it on both the tax and the spending side,” Rubin said during an appearance on ABC-TV’s “This Week” program.
Although Rubin declined to say exactly which provisions Clinton will excise from the budget package, which was signed into law Tuesday, administration officials suggested that the targets will be relatively minor budget provisions inserted by Congress to benefit favored constituencies.
But it was clear that the White House hopes to use today’s action as a way to convince the public that Clinton is an opponent of special-interest pork.
“I think the American people will see from his use of the line-item veto that business-as-usual is over in Washington,” White House senior advisor Rahm Emanuel told CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation” program.
The power of the line-item veto has been sought by presidents dating back to the 19th century, but Clinton will be the first chief executive finally empowered to wield it as a way to block parts of spending bills or strike down narrowly targeted tax breaks or other legislative provisions he opposes.
Previously, the president could use his veto power only against an entire bill, and could not pick and choose specific provisions to kill. Congress can still override a line-item veto like other vetoes, with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate.
The Republican-controlled Congress gave Clinton the line-item veto power last year, and it took effect Jan. 1.
The Supreme Court in June dismissed a constitutional challenge to the provision filed by six members of Congress who argued that while enhancing the president’s flexibility, it erodes the power of the legislative branch. The high court’s ruling did not determine the constitutional merits of the line-item veto, only that the six lawmakers lacked the legal standing to bring their suit.
Clinton had been debating in recent days whether to use his new power on the balanced-budget package, with some aides arguing he might stir further partisan rancor on a legislative package that has already been the source of plenty of partisan bickering.
Some White House aides also had argued that his ability to defend the statute from legal challenges might be stronger if he waited to use it on another piece of legislation.
Those in the administration, reportedly including Rubin, who argued that Clinton should wait lost out to those who pushed for taking advantage of the line-item veto to point out special-interest deals.
Rubin stressed, however, that the decision to use the line-item veto should not hurt relations with the Republican Congress because Clinton has promised not to veto any provisions of the budget that were specifically negotiated and agreed upon by both the White House and lawmakers.
“I think that what he’s doing is totally consistent with the good bipartisan spirit that we had around the budget agreement,” Rubin said.
In fact, Congress already identified 79 special-interest provisions in the tax legislation that were ripe for Clinton’s line-item veto. Clinton is said to have narrowed that list down to about five that he plans to target today, and has considered which ones would best position him to withstand expected court challenges.
Included among them is one that would reduce the tax on alcoholic, or “hard” apple cider for New England producers.
Others include a provision designed specifically to benefit one Texas businessman who owns a sugar beet processing facility; a tax break sponsored by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) for stock donations for employee stock-ownership plans, which was designed to benefit heirs of one company; a provision supported by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) that permits county offices in 34 states more favorable tax treatment for expenses they pay their employees; and a rescue plan for Amtrak that would provide the passenger rail system with more favorable treatment of its net operating losses, costing the Treasury as much as $2.3 billion over five years.
“We are very proud of what the balanced-budget agreement did,” Emanuel said. “But if there’s an item that . . . continues business as usual in Washington, he’ll invoke the line-item authority, which he will do tomorrow.”
While all of the provisions are relatively minor, Rubin observed that the biggest impact from Clinton’s use of the line-item veto could be to make lawmakers think twice about trying to insert special-interest items into the budget in the future.
“I think that what he’s doing is very sensible and can have very powerful and very useful deterrent effects,” Rubin said.