It's time to breathe life back into the movement to give the president of the United States line-item veto power, even though it will require the arduous task of passing a constitutional amendment.
After several decades out of power, Republicans finally took back control of Congress in 1994 with their promise to, among other things, pay down the deficit and balance the budget - a vow they fulfilled, although former President Clinton has been given credit for it. This shows how it's the president - whether he deserves it or not - who gets the credit or the blame, whichever the case may be, for what happens to the economy on his watch.
That being the case, he should be given more power than he has to control the government's budget and spending priorities. The line-item veto would do that.
Since erasing the deficit and generating a surplus by the late 1990s, the GOP-led Congress has become just as big spenders as Democrats ever were, and President Bush - despite some jawboning now and then - can do nothing to restrain them except to exercise his all-or-nothing veto power, which he has so far refused to do.
The Iraq war, homeland security and, more recently, the devastating Gulf Coast storms are used as excuses for running the deficit back up to record levels, but that is largely bunk. Non-defense discretionary spending, which does not include Social Security or Medicare, soared nearly 80 percent during the 10 years leading up to 2005. The Clinton administration was roundly scolded by the GOP in 1994 for blowing $259 billion on discretionary programs, but that's small potatoes compared to the $464 billion Republicans are spending on such projects in this year's fiscal budget.
Some Republicans, at least, are still committed to fighting deficits, among them U.S. Sens. Jim Talent, R-Mo., and George Allen, R-Va. They recently introduced a constitutional amendment calling for the line-item veto.
A constitutional amendment - requiring passage in both houses of Congress by a two-thirds majority, and then ratification by the legislatures of three-quarters of the states - is needed because simple legislation won't pass muster. Congress passed a line-item veto bill in 1996, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.
The 1996 bill allowed the president to cancel, but not reduce, spending items in budget bills. The Talent-Allen constitutional amendment would permit him to cancel or reduce any appropriation passed by Congress. This would give the nation's chief executive even more flexibility.
Don't forget that most governors have line-item veto authority, so why not the president? It is a responsible governing tool that is key to keeping state budgets in balance.
Admittedly, it will be a lot more difficult to get a constitutional amendment passed than it was to get the '96 measure passed. But that's no reason not to try. Current spending is out of control, and neither political party is serious about arresting it.
Something must be done - and a line-item constitutional amendment not only is the best tool, but may be the only tool available.
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