CHN: Line Item Veto Proposal More Sweeping Than It Appears

The Bush Administration’s proposed Legislative Line Item Veto Act of 2006 has been introduced in the House and Senate (H.R. 4890, S. 2381) and has received support from Republican leaders and some Congressional Democrats, while advocates point out that the law would give sweeping powers to the President that few on Capitol Hill fully appreciate. The bill would not grant the President a true line item veto, which was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998, but would vastly expand the power the President currently has to rescind funds so that some programs could be effectively eliminated against the wishes of Congress.
The President can now withhold funds from an appropriated program for 45 days while requesting a rescission as Congress considers the matter. This proposal would allow the President to force a vote in Congress and to rescind funds for 180 days — even if Congress specifically rejects the rescission during that time. In some cases in which the fiscal year ends during the 180 days, the President could effectively eliminate funding for a program without Congressional approval.

Another objection by human needs advocates is that the bill is not structured to target earmarks as is often claimed. The Administration could choose to rescind funds for the 91 programs that the President sought to eliminate in his fiscal 2007 budget proposal. Further, the new authority of the executive would not be limited to discretionary spending but could be used to cancel expansions of entitlement programs or to limit entitlement expansions in certain ways to achieve the President’s policies. Or, the President could simply use the threat of rescission to coerce members of Congress to support items on the Administration’s agenda which could be either unrelated to the budget or could actually increase the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office has suggested that this could easily result in an increase in overall spending and a possible increase in the deficit as a result.

Almost all tax breaks would be immune to the President’s new authority under the bill. It could not be used to cancel any tax break that applied to more than 100 people. Further, Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation has found in the past that even a tax break for 100 people or fewer could be written in a way to be immune from this type of provision. This means that even tax breaks that truly favor special interests would not be curtailed while spending for important human needs programs could be eliminated.

While the House and Senate are not expected to act on the bill until after the April recess, advocates say it is possible that it will be added as an amendment during conference to the supplemental spending bill for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq (H.R. 4939) and voted on as early as April.

Policy Analyses and Research