CBPP - H.R. 4890 Worse Than You May Think
by sethco, Thu Mar 23, 2006 at 10:18:05 AM EST
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a new Republican proposal to give Bush a line-item veto. At the time, I had a few major concerns.
First, one man's pork is another man's Department of Education. Giving an executive the power to line-item veto is, as the Supreme Court has said, giving him the power to legislate. What, after all, should keep Bush from using the line-item veto to further erode spending on programs that benefit Americans to make room for more corporate welfare and Republican pork? This is no outrageous claim, but a logical follow-up to bills such as S.1932.
Second, even though this new Republican proposal requires Congress to approve the President's cuts, the idea is based on the good faith of Congress. What if there was a situation in which the executive and legislative branches were controlled by the same party, and the legislature gave up the task of oversight in order to advance the interests of the party? Or, what if the executive and legislative branches were controlled by different parties functioning in a highly partisan environment and either branch used the new rules for partisan rather than good government ends?
It seems that my concerns were not too far off. A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the new line-item veto proposal does much more than its proponents have been saying.
The proposal would allow the President to sign appropriations acts and tax and entitlement legislation, and then strike specific provisions from them. He would be allowed to strike far more than "earmarks." For example, the President could, if he chose, leave all earmarks in place while eliminating all funding for the 91 programs he proposed to eliminate in his February 2006 budget.
Under the proposal, when the President chose to strike amounts from appropriations acts, he could withhold the funds in question for 180 days. During that time, Congress would be required to vote on whether to pass legislation eliminating the funding as the President had requested, without any amendments being allowed. If Congress turned down the President's request to eliminate the funds, the funds would eventually be released -- but the President could continue to withhold them for months after Congress had voted to reject his request to eliminate the funding. Some of the funds could expire in the meantime if the fiscal year for which the funds had been appropriated ended before the close of the 180-day period.
The President also could use the new "line-item veto" procedure to strike provisions of new entitlement legislation and certain new "targeted tax benefits" contained in recently enacted tax bills. This authority would be far broader with respect to entitlement expansions than with respect to tax cuts. In fact, it appears Congressional tax-writers could draft new tax breaks in a way that made them exempt from the new procedure.
Supporters of the bill claim that this is just one more tool that the government can use to cut waste. But upon inspection, it's something quite different. This proposed legislation actually increases the power of the executive branch dramatically, especially as it relates to the power of the purse - a power specifically reserved for Congress.
Some Democrats, like Senator John Kerry (D-MA), have come out in favor of the new line-item veto bill, saying they supported it in 1996 as well. In fact, look for Republican consultants to argue that Democrats opposing this bill have changed their position. This is not true. The new proposal differs substantially from the 1996 proposal.
Unlike H.R. 4890, the Line Item Veto Act of 1996 granted the President the unilateral authority to cancel enacted appropriations. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that such authority was unconstitutional, since it allowed the President to change a law by himself, thus violating the constitutional rules for creating or amending laws. The new proposal is presumed to be constitutional because it does not grant the President the authority to change an appropriations act unilaterally; rather, he would request that Congress enact a change in the appropriations law.
There are two ways in which the new proposal could grant the President more power than under the 1996 act. First, that act gave the President five days from the enactment of appropriations, entitlement, or tax legislation to decide whether to cancel some of its provisions, while H.R. 4890 gives the President up to a year. In addition, under the 1996 act, if Congress overturned a presidential rescission by statute, the withheld funds would have to be released; under H.R. 4890, if Congress overturns a presidential veto by defeating the President's proposal to cancel the funds, the President can continue to withhold the funds for the 180-day period -- long enough, in some cases, to effectively cancel them.
Second, the 1996 act allowed the President to cancel entitlement increases but not to scale them back. As noted in this analysis, the authority to scale back entitlement increases may permit the President to rewrite entitlement benefits in unexpected ways.
Take a moment to read the report and carefully consider what the real impact of this bill will be. H.R. 4890 is not a tool for the President to cut wasteful spending, nor is it a measure for lowering the deficit. This is an attempt at a radical restructuring of power in our government, taking away the power of our Representatives, and giving it to an unchecked executive.