In his State of the Union speech, President Bush suggested he could help Congress deal with its "earmark" problem - i.e., too much pork-barrel spending - if it granted him a line-item veto.
The problem is severe. Fiscal watchdog groups report that there were nearly 14,000 earmarks in spending bills last year - more than 10 times what they were in 1994.
This is one reason the U.S. House Republican Caucus elected Rep. John Boehner of Ohio as its majority leader, ousting the pre-vote favorite, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri. Blunt became the acting majority leader last year when Tom Delay had to step down because of troubling legal and political fund-raising allegations. Boehner said he never took an earmark and would fight them. Blunt defended them.
A line-item veto, like most governors have, is sensible and could be helpful. It would certainly make Boehner's job a lot easier, as it would Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's. Members still could appease their constituents by putting the earmarks in, then blame the president for taking them out. That's called having it both ways.
The problem is that Congress gave the president line-item veto power back in the mid-1990s, but by a 6-3 vote in 1998 the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. It was one of the few times President Clinton and the GOP Congress agreed they didn't like a high court ruling.
Perhaps Bush thinks that with his two appointees now on the court - Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito - that he'd get a different vote this time. Not likely. Five of the six justices who struck down the line-item veto are still on the court, and that's enough to strike it down again no matter how Roberts and Alito vote.
Hence, members of Congress won't be able to rely on presidential vetoes to discipline their out-of-control spending; they'll have to do it themselves. A measure of Boehner's leadership - as well as that of presidential wannbe Frist - will be how successful they are in getting that runaway spending train under control.
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