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Legislative Line Item Veto Act of 2006

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Location: Washington, DC


LEGISLATIVE LINE ITEM VETO ACT OF 2006

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Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 5 1/2 minutes.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be bringing this bill to the floor today, and I would like to explain why we are doing this, why this is needed.

Just last year, according to the CRS or Citizens Against Government Waste, whichever group you want to talk about, we had over 10,000 earmarks here, totaling almost $28 billion.

Mr. Speaker, not every one of those earmarks came in just conference reports, but many of them did.

Mr. Speaker, we need more transparency and more accountability in how we spend the taxpayer dollars. In particular, Mr. Speaker, we ought to have the ability to be able to have votes on the individual merits of spending items, particularly those that we never have a chance to vote on, things that go into conference reports.

The earmark reform legislation that was passed earlier by this body did a lot to address bringing more transparency and accountability to the spending system as bills come to the floor. This is a perfect complement to that, the legislative line item veto, because after bills are considered, after conference reports are dealt with, we often find out that in conference a lot of things get put into those bills that we didn't get a chance to scrutinize. We ought to be able to vote on those things.

Now, how does this work?

And I want to get to the constitutional point in just a moment. Here is exactly how the process is laid out under this constitutional legislative line item veto: number one, after a bill becomes law, the President identifies an item of discretionary spending, direct spending or special interest tax break in legislation that is being signed into law. The President then submits a special message to Congress, no more than five, asking for the rescission of a spending item or items. After receiving this bill or messages, the House and the Senate have a total of 14 legislative days to bring it to the floor for an up-or-down vote. If the House and Senate pass the President's rescission request, it is sent to the President and becomes law. If either House votes against it, the rescission is not enacted.

This is far different than the earlier legislative line item veto. This is not your father's line item veto. In fact, I agree with the Supreme Court ruling that said that the earlier line item veto was unconstitutional, because that line item veto, among other things, violated the separation of powers. This protects the prerogatives of the legislative branch, specifically, because this: the action is executed by Congress, not the administration. Under the old version the administration made the decision. Line item veto. That is the end of it. If Congress didn't like it, they would have to come up with a two-thirds vote to override that. That is not how this situation works.

Under this system, the President, who already has similar existing rescission authority, sends a rescission request to the Congress, just like he can do today. Only under this situation, we simply add a fast track authority, like we do with a lot of other legislation, like trade legislation, whereby we can't duck the vote by within 14 legislative days the House and the Senate vote on this, up or down. We decide in Congress. We vote to affirm the rescission. If we choose not to pass the rescission, the rescission does not take place. The money is spent. This is constitutional to the point where the gentleman who argued against the line item veto successfully in the Supreme Court in 1998 came to testify in three different committee hearings, Charles Cooper, as to the constitutionality of this, that this does, in fact, protect the prerogatives of the legislative branch; that this is consistent with the bicameralism and presentment clause in the Constitution, and maintains the separation of powers.

Now, we have worked with a lot of parties. We have worked with Democrats, constitutional experts, Republicans, OMB. In fact, this bill has been so bipartisan in the past, similar legislation has been proposed. In 1993, H.R. 1578 received 250 votes, including 174 Democrats. In 1994, H.R. 4600 received 342 votes, an expedited rescission bill, 173 Democrats. Two years ago, Congressman Charles Stenholm and I, a Blue Dog Democrat, brought it to the floor. We got 174 votes for virtually the same legislation, where we got 45 Democrats.

Now, the gentleman from South Carolina, the ranking member, has brought a lot of good points to the table. He is a gentleman who has watched this process for many years and understands this process very, very well. In particular, he brought six items of concern to the committee 3 weeks ago, which I took very, very copious notes of, which I took to heart. And because of that, we have made six big changes to this bill to try and improve this legislation, because I think the gentleman from South Carolina made excellent suggestions.

We limited time on the President's submission of a rescission request. We limited the number of requests. We wrote a ban on duplicative requests so the President couldn't send a request over and over and over and tie us into knots. We shortened the deferral period to the minimum amount necessary. We clarified that existing entitlements are exempt. Not Medicare, not Social Security, not other entitlements. We put a sunset in here so that we can revisit this law in 6 years to make sure that the balance of power is maintained.

Why is this needed, Mr. Speaker?

I think the success of this tool will be judged more in how much wasteful spending doesn't get put into bills and less on how much wasteful spending we take out of bills. Having this deterrence, having this extra layer of accountability will bring the level of sunshine, transparency and accountability to the spending and taxing process in Congress exactly where it is needed the most.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, at this time I would like to respond to something that the gentleman from South Carolina said. He said under this bill we could go after mandatory programs like Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits.

Let me be very clear: you cannot with this program go after Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits as we know it today. We are saying new programs. Why do we say it that way? Why new direct spending programs?

There are 5,000-plus earmarks in the transportation bill just this last year. Why should that be taken off the table? If you did that, then the Bridge to Nowhere would be exempt from the line item veto. I think most people who know this stuff think the Bridge to Nowhere ought to be one of the things that the President would want to go after under the line item veto.

We are talking about new programs, not the existing entitlement programs that we have come to know and enjoy for many of our constituents.

Mr. Speaker, I yield 1 1/2 minutes to the distinguished gentleman from Colorado (Mr. Udall).

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Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. Mr. Speaker, I want to address a few of the concerns that have been mentioned by the other side of the aisle.

First of all, this is a bipartisan bill. If you paid attention, a number of the speakers came to the floor from the other side of the well to speak in favor of this. Actually, three Democrats came to the floor in favor of this bill that we are considering right now, three Democrats I am proud to call friends and supporters and coauthors of this proposal. In fact, we took an amendment of Mr. Cuellar of Texas to improve this bill.

Other speakers have said this gives too much power to the President. Well, let us just remember one thing: the President already has rescission authority today. Today, the President can rescind something, defer spending, and send it to Congress. Here is the problem: Congress just ignores these things. In fact, President Reagan sent $25 billion of rescissions to Congress, and they ignored every one of them.

So we want to make that process work. We are taking the existing authority he has, making it actually shorter in time frame, and we are simply guaranteeing that we are going to vote on it.

I think, if somebody sticks a wasteful pork barrel project like a $50 million rainforest museum from Iowa, a bridge to nowhere, or something like that in a bill in a conference report where we as Members of Congress have one choice, vote ``yes'' or ``no'' on the entire bill, then the President has a similar choice: sign or veto the entire bill.

That is wrong. We ought to be able to vote on that $50 million rainforest museum. This gives us the chance to do that, and this means that we can't duck those votes.

This is a bipartisan bill. It has been so bipartisan in the past that Mr. Spratt has offered very similar legislation. We got 173 Democrats on one of them, 174 on another. Mr. Stenholm and I offered a bill very similar to this 2 years ago; we got 45 Democrats on it. I hope that we will continue to get this bipartisan support that we had been getting.

But more importantly, Mr. Speaker, the American people know we need every tool we can get our hands on to go after wasteful spending. That is why taxpayer watchdog groups are key on voting this bill. The American Conservative Union, the Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens Against Government Waste, the Club For Growth, Freedom Works, National Federation of Independent Businesses, National Taxpayer Union, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce all are key voting this vote as a key vote for the taxpayer. Other groups supporting this: ALEC, the American Taxpayer Alliance, Bond Market Association, Business Roundtable, Center for Individual Freedom, Concord Coalition, Association of Wholesale Distributors, National Restaurant Association, 60 Plus, Traditional Values. The list goes on and on.

Mr. Speaker, the American people know we need this tool to go after wasteful spending, taxpayers need this tool so we can do this, and, more importantly, we need more transparency in our process here in Congress.

We passed earmark reform so that Members of Congress have to defend their earmarks when they come to the floor of the House when we write these bills in the beginning. But a lot of this stuff gets inserted at the end of the process in the conference reports; that is why we need to have this deterrent.

I think the success of this bill will be less in how much pork we get out of legislation that we line item veto out, and more in how much pork never gets put into legislation in the first place, because there will be an extra deterrent. A Member of Congress who wants to slip in some big piece of pork barrel spending that he probably couldn't otherwise justify will think twice, because he or she may have to come to the well of the House and the well of the other body to defend that pork barrel spending.

This is good government. This is transparency. This is an added layer of accountability that is right for the taxpayer, and it is constitutional. It protects the prerogatives of the legislative branch. That is why I think this is a good bill. That is why I am pleased to call this a bipartisan bill. That is why I think we should strike this vote for the taxpayer.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I urge a ``aye'' vote for this.

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Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the gentleman for a very substantive motion to recommit. I would like to go through a number of the provisions he raises and some of the concerns I have with them and why I have to rise in opposition.

Number one, Mr. Speaker, he excludes direct spending from the line item veto. A case in point. When we do the transportation reauthorization bill, that thing contains something like 5,000 earmarks. The bridge to nowhere is one of the most prolific examples of such things. I do not think those things should be exempt from this line item veto tool.

Number two, he reduces the number of messages from five to one. My fear with this change is that it will reduce the effectiveness of this tool. If the President only has one bite at the apple, only one bill he can send, he will only go after one or two earmarks. What if a bill has 5,000 earmarks? What if a bill has 500 earmarks? The President ought to be able to send us more votes so we can go after more earmarks and cut out more wasteful spending. If he only gets to send 1 bill, and he puts 50 pieces in that bill, then the President will be growing his vote coalition against it. Fifty State delegations also vote against it. So I think if you just do one bill, you are going to make this tool very, very small. It will not be nearly as effective because the President will be disincentivized from putting many earmarks in it because they will fall under their own weight. That is why we put five bills so we can go after a great number of earmarks so that we can get maximum output for this.

Now, the other thing, it permits amendments to strike. I understand the intent of this. I think it is valuable, but the problem I have with permitting amendments to strike is that then you are going to ping-pong back and forth with the House and Senate. You will see no end to this.

The reason why we do not allow amendments to conference reports is because conference reports represent a conclusion of a legislative process, the end of a legislative process before a bill becomes law. But that is where a lot of mischief happens, and mischief occurs because people insert earmarks in conference reports. I think by doing this you are going to encourage that. Even if you try to come up with language to streamline the conference report process, I still think this produces those problems.

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, the tax provision. This is one that is worthy of very good debate. Mr. Spratt wants to limit the number of tax beneficiaries from 100 to 10. Let me give you an example. We chose to do it the way we did it so we would go after tax pork, rifleshot tax policy, you know, this tax cut for this person, this tax entity, instead of tax policy. Let me just give you one example. The orphan drug tax credit.

We have the orphan drug tax credit in tax law today because there are a lot of small diseases that do not have a lot of constituencies, that do not have a lot of people--lupus, Duchenne's disease, and you are not going to see pharmaceutical companies engaging in committing millions of dollars in research to cure such small diseases, but we want cures for these smaller diseases, these rare diseases. So we created the orphan drug tax credit. How many people utilize this orphan drug tax credit? Very few, surely not 100, maybe 3, 4 companies. Researchers will research a cure for a rare disease, but if they do the research, they qualify for the tax credit. That is tax policy. Fewer than 100 beneficiaries get it, but we wanted to have a tax incentive so that researchers will commit their dollars to researching and finding cures for rare diseases. That is just one example of how broadening the scope of this goes into tax policy.

The goal of this is not to give the President the power to rewrite policy, to rewrite entitlement policy, to rewrite tax policy. The goal of the legislative line item vote is to give us the tool to go after pork, tax pork.

Now, what we want to accomplish with this, Mr. Speaker, is to give us the tools to go after wasteful spending, wasteful direct spending, wasteful discretionary spending, and wasteful tax pork. The key thing is that we reserve the power. The Executive can give us the bill; the Executive, the President, can pull the pork out; but who makes the decision is Congress. Congress and Congress alone, the legislative branch, are the ones who execute the action.

I think the compromise we have come up with, the base bill, is the right way to go.

And the last point I will make is the gentleman reduces the deferral period to 30 days. Here is the problem with that. That means Congress can pass a huge omnibus appropriations bill in October, as we often do, and then leave for recess until January 20, when the President has the State of the Union address. He is out of session for 3 months and Congress cannot waive the deferral period.

I urge a ``no'' vote on the motion to recommit.

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