NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 22, 2007


If presidential candidate Mitt Romney thinks a line-item veto would be a major force for federal frugality, he is mistaken, says columnist George Will.


  • Some 61 percent of the federal budget goes to entitlements and to interest payments on government borrowing, neither of which can be vetoed.
  • Another 21 percent goes to defense and homeland security.
  • Realistically, the line-item veto probably would be pertinent to less than 20 percent of the budget.

In addition, such vetoes could blur constitutional duties, says Will:

  • Were a president empowered to cancel provisions of legislation, what he would be doing would be indistinguishable from legislating; he would be making, rather than executing, laws and the separation of powers would be violated.
  • Furthermore, when presidents truncated bills by removing items, they often would vitiate the will of Congress.
  • Frequently, congressional majorities could not have been cobbled together for bills if they had not included some provisions that presidents later removed.

Further, the line-item veto might result in increased spending:

  • Legislators would have even less conscience about packing the budget with pork, because they could get credit for putting in what presidents would be responsible for taking out.
  • Presidents, however, might use the pork for bargaining, trading individual legislators for support on different bills.

After a century of the growth of presidential power, it would be unseemly to intensify this tendency with a line-item veto, says Will.  Conservatives used to be the designated worriers about the evolution of the presidency into the engine of grandiose government.  They should be so now.

Source: George Will, "Line-item foolishness," Orlando Sentinel, October 21, 2007.


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