NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Second Look At A So-Called "Line-Item Veto"

March 28, 1996

Legislation to let the President veto parts of spending bills is expected to pass Congress and be signed by President Clinton, who supports the measure.

  • The proposed bill actually provides for "enhanced recission" and is simply a change in federal law.
  • It is not an amendment to the U.S. Constitution for a "line-item veto" that would let the President get ride of specific items in spending bills and require a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress to override.
  • A constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds vote of Congress (instead of a simple majority) to send it to the state legislatures and three-fourths of the states would have to approve it.
  • The Republican "Contract with America" promised a vote on a constitutional amendment, but because of the difficulty of getting a two-thirds majority and ratification by the states, bill sponsors decided to try the legislative route as well.

Although the "enhanced recission" bill would let the President reject some specific spending and tax items, congress would have 30 days to override the rejection by a simple majority -- but its rejection would then be subject to a regular presidential veto. The law would become effective January 1, 1997 and run for only nine years.

Many legal scholars of all persuasions say that giving the president the line-item veto requires a Constitutional amendment. Some experts contend that enhanced recission is unconstitutional.

Supporters say a line-item veto would allow the president to scrap pork-barrel projects in spending bills, fight special interests, increase government accountability and save the taxpayers billions. They point to the examples of 43 states which already have some form of line-item veto.

  • In 33 states, the governor has general line-item veto power, with the ability to cross out lines in legislation and then subject the rejections to normal override procedures.
  • In the other ten states, the governor enjoys an item-reduction veto which allows the cutting of spending levels for individual programs -- which has turned out to be the stronger of the two types of provisions in cutting spending.

While neither form has prevented state spending from increasing, spending in states with an item-reduction veto has grown at a slower rate than in states without it.

  • From 1990 to 1993, the seven states without any form of line-item veto saw spending increase 13.6 percent.
  • In the 33 states with a line-item veto, spending increased 16.4 percent.
  • But in item-reduction states, it grew on average just 8.3 percent.

Presidents already have the option of sending back to Congress lists of expenditures they think should be cut from bills. Congress can enact these cuts by a simple majority vote.

  • Since the current budget process was created in 1974, presidents have sent back $72.8 billion in proposed recissions and Congress has approved 22.9 billion.
  • During his four years in office, however, President Bush recommended $7.9 billion in recissions and Congress enacted $8.2 billion.

Legal opinion is split on the issue of the constitutionality of granting such powers to the president. So even if Congress passes some form of line-item veto and it is signed by President Clinton, as expected, a later Supreme Court test is a virtual certainty.

Source: Claude R. Marx, "Line-Item Veto: Fact and Fiction," Investor's Business Daily, March 28, 1996.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues