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Line-Item Veto, A Major GOP Priority, Stalls in Congress

July 20, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The line-item veto, which Republicans promised to deliver to President Clinton as a potent tool for erasing wasteful spending, now seems unlikely to make it through Congress this year.

More than five months after the House approved one version of the bill and four months after the Senate adopted another, bargainers from the two chambers haven’t begun working through the differences, and the House hasn’t even appointed a negotiating team.

Participants say the measure has fallen victim to several forces. Some, without naming names, cite a desire by presidential candidates in Congress to prevent Clinton from using it to nurture a tightfisted image. Others ascribe it to Congress’ crush of budget work, a desire by some Republicans to keep Clinton from performing surgery on GOP-written spending and tax bills, and the dramatic differences between the House and Senate measures.

Supporters _ who note that the line-item veto was promised as part of House GOP candidates’ ``Contract With America″ _ say they are upset.

``I feel frustration, but it’s not unexpected,″ Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a leading proponent of line-item veto power, said Thursday.

The measure, which Clinton supports, is designed to give the president the power to kill individual items in spending and tax legislation.

Currently, the Constitution gives the president the power to sign or veto an entire measure. Critics say that allows lawmakers to insert questionable projects or tax breaks into legislation that is likely to be signed. Opponents of the line-item veto power say it would give a president too much influence, allowing him to threaten individual lawmakers with vetoes of their projects unless they support him on other issues.

Democrats are using the delay to accuse Republicans of backtracking on their own promise to deliver.

``We are wondering if this is because those who talked about line-item veto were much more interested in talking about line-item veto than in handing it to this president,″ said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

``They’re hypocrites,″ said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.

Some Republicans who favor the measure, including House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., say they just don’t want to get it to Clinton right away. Livingston and others say they would prefer to send it to him after Congress completes its work later this year on tax and spending bills for 1996, which will reflect GOP preferences.

``We may not want to give it to this president right at the outset, but let’s give it to him eventually,″ Livingston said.

Asked last week about line-item veto and a product liability bill, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., told The Washington Times, ``My sense is we won’t get to them this year.″

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said Thursday that Gingrich’s forecast was ``not unreasonable″ because of the pile of work Congress faces on spending, tax and balanced-budget legislation this year.

``We’re in the middle of a race against the fiscal clock,″ Armey said, noting the Oct. 1 start of the next fiscal year.

When questioned why House leaders had not yet appointed bargainers to iron out differences with the Senate, Armey said, ``Frankly, we just haven’t sat and done it yet. You’re right to remind me.″

But other Republicans say there is more involved.

``I think presidential politics may be part of it,″ said Rep. Peter Blute, R-Mass. ``Some people may not want to give President Clinton this tool too early. But I think that’s a wrong strategy. We ought to keep our finger on this.″

And then there is simply the big difference between the two measures.

The House bill would let the president kill individual items in spending bills or narrowly aimed tax benefits. The vetoed items would die unless both chambers of Congress approved bills restoring them. The president could then veto that legislation, and since it would take two-thirds majorities to override that veto, it would be very difficult for lawmakers to restore a vetoed item.

The Senate measure, a compromise between competing forces, is more complicated. Individual spending or tax items in legislation would be broken into individual bills, creating hundreds or thousands of measures that would be sent to the president.

The president could veto any of these bills. Since both chambers would need two-thirds majorities to override a veto, just over one-third of the members of each chamber would be able to uphold the president.

``Line-item veto is important,″ Armey said. ``We need to get it to the president as soon as possible. As soon as we can, we’ll do that.″

___

Eds: House bill is HR2; Senate bill is S4.

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