House passes line item veto in rare bipartisan action

The House Wednesday passed a presidential line-item veto in a rare show of bipartisan support despite criticism from both sides of the aisle that the bill is unconstitutional and gives the executive branch too much power.

The measure passed 254 to 173 with 57 Democrats voting yes and 41 Republicans voting no.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, and the panel’s ranking Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, authored the bill that they
said would help cut wasteful government spending.

“We believe this bill will return trust, accountability, and transparency to the way we spend the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” Ryan said.

For example, Ryan said, members of Congress will have to be more accountable to public scrutiny when appropriating $40 million for a rainforest museum.

“This will make every member of Congress think twice … that they might have to justify this spending bill on the merits,” Ryan said. “We think this act of sunshine and transparency will help improve the integrity of the spending in Congress.”

Supporters said this line-item language is different from the bill passed in 1996, which the Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional, because it does not cede spending control to the executive branch.

Under this legislation, the president would have 45 days to examine spending measures passed by Congress and can then request that specific items be defunded. That bill would go back to the House and Senate for final approval.

“Let (spending) be debated and defended on their merit, rather than slipped into thousand-page bills in the dark of night,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.).

Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) said the measure would bring common sense to the budgeting process.

“We can’t pretend the deficit away,” Woodall said.

“I’m not thrilled about involving this president in budget decisions. But it’s not about this president or the next president … it’s what we need to do to fulfill our responsibility to keep America strong,” Woodall said.

In a rare public turf battle, the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the real problem is the exploding rise in entitlement spending and mandatory programs that the “Budget Committee should be addressing forthwith.”

Rogers warned that the bill would weaken powers that the founding fathers gave Congress over the executive branch, particularly the “power of the purse.”

“During the last State of the Union Address, we heard how the president would choose to spend our precious dollars,” Rogers said. “Look beyond the opportunity for the easy press release, to see the line-item veto does more harm than good,” Rogers said. “We can’t pretend it will have any positive effect on the nation’s financial predicament.”

Added Rep. Norman Dicks of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the panel: “Don’t just pick on the Appropriations Committee, we’ve done our job. The Ways and Means Committee hasn’t done its job.”

Dicks said Congress would make a “serious mistake” if they gave any president the line-item veto authority.

“You are transferring it to a monarchy,” said Rep. Don Young of Alaska, one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the House. “Shame on you, shame on you!”

“This is the Congress of the people. It’s up to us to do the job,” Young said.

Responded Van Hollen: “I don’t think putting turf over the taxpayer is a winning argument.”

Ryan said it was not the intention of their legislation to “go after” any particular committee for not doing its job.

“This is an attempt to take one more step on behalf of the taxpayers to clean up the system and how we spend the hard-working taxpayer’s dollars,” Ryan said.

The line-item veto has bipartisan support in the Senate with a similar bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not announced whether he will allow a vote on the measure.

The line-item veto is part of a budget reform package of 10 bills under consideration in the House, on Tuesday the Budget Accounting and Transparency Act was passed

Ryan said that bill would require lawmakers to take market risk into account when it measures the cost of government credit programs, and a full accounting of massive government liabilities incurred by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), chairman of the House Republican Conference, said that measure would boost economic confidence among the country’s job creators if they know Congress is working from a fact-based budget.

“We need fair value accounting.  You know if you’re a small business in the Fifth District of Texas and you don’t have fair value accounting, you probably go broke. Well, the federal government doesn’t use fair value accounting and guess what? The federal government is broke,” Hensarling said.