NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Line-Item Veto Raises Suspicions

November 7, 1997

Supporters of the line-item veto are concerned that President Clinton is using his new authority infrequently and arbitrarily. The president was given a limited authority by Congress to eliminate individual spending items to reduce the budget deficit and save taxpayers money.

  • To date, the president has vetoed 70 items from six appropriations bills.
  • Total savings have reached only $1.3 billion, less than 0.4 percent of total funding for these bills.

Some members of Congress are concerned the line-item veto process is being politicized. Analysts say projects were cut that did not appear to meet the president's announced criteria for a veto, while many others that clearly met his criteria were not cut. Also, he used different standards to judge each bill, and only said what they were in his veto message. For example,

  • Thirteen items were selected for veto from the Department of Defense bill because they did not "contribute to national security."
  • Yet the president did not eliminate many items that clearly do not contribute to national security -- such as a $250,000 project to transfer commercial shipbuilding technology to the Navy and $100,000 to preserve a Revolutionary War gunboat.
  • The president said the one item vetoed in the $23 billion Treasury/Postal bill was cut because it was added to the bill at the last minute -- but other programs also added late were not vetoed.
  • Despite using such broad criteria as "new" or "not requested," he vetoed only eight projects out of hundreds from the $21 billion energy and water bill.

Some are suspicious that the president's announced reasons for the vetoes were tailored to explain items already added to the veto list.

Source: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) "Line-Item Furor," Washington Post, November 7, 1997.


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