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 High Court Hears Line-Item Veto Arguments (04-27-98)

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Supreme Court Deletes Line-Item Veto

Clinton disappointed; Opponents of veto call it a victory for the Constitution

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 25) -- The line-item veto is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court decided Thursday, ruling that Congress did not have the authority to hand that power to the president.

Line Item Veto

The 6-3 ruling said that the Constitution gives a president only two choices: either sign legislation or send it back to Congress. The 1996 line-item veto law allowed the president to pencil out specific spending items approved by the Congress.

In his majority opinion Justice John Paul Stevens upheld a lower court's decision, concluding "the procedures authorized by the line-item veto act are not authorized by the Constitution."

If Congress wants to give the president that power, they will have to pass a constitutional amendment, Stevens said. "If there is to be a new procedure in which the president will play a different role in determining the text of what may become a law, such change must come not by legislation but through the amendment procedures set forth in Article V of the Constitution," Stevens said.

The court's ruling was a defeat for the Clinton Administration, which asked the high court to reverse the lower court's ruling. President Bill Clinton, traveling in China, said he was "deeply disappointed."

Clinton was the first president to exercise the veto, which he did 82 times last year. Many of the vetoed programs are under court challenges and should now win their appeals.

Stevens was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O'Connor and Stephen Breyer dissented. Scalia, who wrote the dissent, made clear his disagreement by taking the unusual step of using nine minutes in court to read from his opinion.

"The title of the Line Item Veto Act, which was perhaps designed to simplify for public comprehension, or perhaps merely to comply with the terms of a campaign pledge, has succeeded in faking out the Supreme Court," Scalia said. "The president's action it authorizes in fact is not a line-item veto."

A federal judge in Washington ruled the law unconstitutional in February. Once a bill becomes law, the president's sole duty is to carry it out, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan said.

The case was brought by an Idaho potato growers' group and New York City.

New York City sued to restore a provision that would have let the city and New York state raise taxes on hospitals and use the money to attract federal Medicaid payments.

The Snake River Potato Growers sued over Clinton's veto of a tax measure that would have allowed agricultural processors to defer capital gains taxes when they sell such facilities to farmers' cooperatives.

Clinton, Republican supporters 'disappointed'

The line-item veto had been a hallmark of the GOP "Contract With America," when Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, and was the only plank of that agenda that Clinton supported

In a written statement, Clinton said: "The decision is a defeat for all Americans, it deprives the president of a valuable tool for eliminating waste in the federal budget and for enlivening the debate over how to make the best use of public funds. ... I am determined to do everything in my power to continue to cut wasteful government spending, maintain fiscal discipline and create opportunity through continued economic growth."

In addition to allowing him to strike specific projects from spending bills, Clinton said the line-item veto was useful as a negotiating tool -- a weapon to discourage Congress from adding pork-barrel spending to legislation.

Key Senate supporters of the veto power, Sens. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) said they would try to work around the court's objections, perhaps by requiring each spending item to be sent to the president as a separate bill.

Coats

"This is a temporary defeat -- a temporary defeat for the American people, for fiscal responsibility. But anyone who knows John McCain and anybody, hopefully, who knows Dan Coats knows that this is one battle in a war to address the issue of fiscal responsibility and to represent the American taxpayer so that the light of day can be shed on the way in which the Congress spends their money."

McCain had suffered an earlier blow last week as his tobacco legislation was scuttled in the Senate. Even so, the former Vietnam prison of war was able to keep a light view of the defeats.

"I would just like to point out that this has been a wonderful two weeks for me personally," McCain said to laughter during the press conference. "I'm really on a roll. I really haven't had quite so much fun since my last interrogation in Hanoi."

House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-Ohio) said Congress should still try to pass a constitutional amendment, but has offered in the meantime legislation forcing Congress to act upon any reductions in spending that the president earmarks in legislation.

Kasich said that under his proposal "what this says is the president sends us something he wants eliminated, then we've got to vote whether we agree or disagree with him." Kasich called his proposal "a pretty good remedy for what we lost today," in the Supreme Court ruling.

Kasich

Under the current system, the president can sign a piece of legislation, but send Congress his recommendations that certain spending portions be cut out of the bill, with Congress not required to act upon those recommendations.

Under the Kasich proposal, both Houses of Congress would be required to vote on the rescissions proposed by the president, passing them by a simple majority.

The court ruling comes as Congress is preparing the budget for 1999. And with an unusual budget surplus tempting it to spend more, Congress may have to exert its own fiscal discipline, since Clinton will no longer have the line-item veto as leverage.

Strict constitutionalists praise decision

Byrd

But lawmaker who had fought against the line-item veto legislation three years ago were thrilled with the Supreme Court's ruling that the statute is unconstitutional.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) called it " a great day for the U.S. Constitution."

"We feel that the liberties of the American people have been assured," said Byrd. "Without adequate control by the citizens represented in Congress, liberty is threatened."

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the law of the land -- the Constitution -- applies to all, including the president.

Levin

"Congress, in this particular line-item veto bill struck down today, tried to bend the Constitution. The court said it will not allow that to happen. Thank God it did, because this particular line-item bill would have given the president the power to repeal the law of the land without Congress participating," said Levin.

The law let the president sign a bill and within five days go back to reject specific spending items or tax breaks in it. Congress could then reinstate the item by passing a separate bill.

Nearly every president in the past century has sought the line-item veto as a tool for controlling "pork barrel" programs added by lawmakers. Most governors have similar authority over state spending.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Thursday, June 25, 1998

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