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Line-Item Veto Headed For Clinton's Desk - March 28, 1996


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Clinton Becomes First President With Line-Item Veto

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WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 2) -- With the New Year, President Bill Clinton possesses what no other U.S. president has had: the ability to pencil out specific budget items he considers wasteful. But six lawmakers have filed suit, saying it gives the president too much power.

Clinton's new budget authority took effect on New Year's Day, but his first real opportunity to use it could come later this year, when the new Congress begins to send him spending bills.

The line-item veto permits the president to block specific spending measures without rejecting an entire piece of legislation. Forty-four governors already have the power.

When Congress approved the line-item veto last year, Clinton and his Republican challenger, Bob Dole, agreed it would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 1997, taking it out of election-year politics.

At the time, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) called it "the most significant delegation of authority by the Congress to the president since the Constitution was ratified in 1789."

But opponents say it surrendered too much power, and six lawmakers today filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to consider the balance of power issue.

"This is constitutional nonsense," Rep. David Skaggs (D-Colo.) told The Associated Press. "It's not only unconstitutional, but it's unwise because it gives one individual extraordinary power that's now held by the people's representatives in Congress." A hearing on the legal challenge could come in early February.

The White House, however, said the legislation was drafted carefully to avoid a successful legal challenge. A lawsuit by unionized federal workers already was rebuffed, when a judge ruled that workers had failed to show they had been harmed by the legislation.

Presidential aides say the president is eager to use the line-item veto to target tax loopholes, special interest measures and pork barrel projects.

The only real guide to how Clinton will use his new power is the experience of some governors. Michigan Gov. John Engler used the line-item veto in 1991 to eliminate a $1.8 million deficit, targeting items from virtually all departments in state government.

Another prominent Republican governor, Wisconsin's Tommy Thompson, has issued more than 1,500 vetoes, and displays a six-foot yellow pencil in his office, a token of thanks from tight-fisted Republican legislators.

Last summer, New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman axed $112,000 for a commission that worked on Vietnam veterans' health issues.

As with any veto, Congress could overrride the president with a two-thirds majority. The line-item veto law lapses on Jan. 1, 2005 unless Congress renews it, giving members a chance to evaluate how it is working.

The first known line-item veto bill was introduced in Congress during the 1870s and there were more than 200 attempts to pass it before it was approved last year. The version that passed gives the president the authority to cancel individual spending items, limited tax breaks or new entitlement programs from larger bills already signed into law. Unlike many governors, though, he cannot rewrite specific spending items.

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