Udall Supports Line-Item Veto Bill
Washington, DCCongressman Mark Udall (D-Eldorado Springs) gave the following speech on the House floor today regarding his support for H.R. 4890, The Legislative Line-Item Veto Act of 2006, which the House passed by a vote of 247-172. Udall is the chief Democratic cosponsor of the bill and worked with the White House to garner Democratic support for it. In the end, 35 Democratic Members of Congress voted for the bill:
"Over the last five years we've seen a dramatic change in the federal budget - a change for the worse. We've gone from budget surpluses to big deficits, and from reducing the national debt to increasing the "debt tax" on our children.
"There's no mystery about how this happened. Partly, it was caused by a recession. Partly, it was caused by the increased spending needed for national defense, homeland security, and fighting terrorism. And in part it was caused by excessive and unbalanced tax cuts the president pushed for and Congress passed.
"This bill does not directly address those major causes of our budgetary problems. Fixing them will take long-term work on several fronts. And it will take stronger medicine than this -- such as restoring the "PAYGO" rules that helped bring the budget into balance in the past. That's why I thought the House should have been able to at least debate a stronger version of this bill.
But, even so, I support this bill because it can help promote transparency and accountability about spending items and tax breaks.
"We have heard a lot of talk about spending "earmarks" - meaning spending based on proposals by Members of Congress instead of the Administration. Some people are opposed to all earmarks - but I am not one of them. I think Members of Congress know the needs of their communities, and I think Congress as a whole has the responsibility to decide how tax dollars are spent. Not all earmarks are bad. In fact, I have sought earmarks for various items that have benefited Coloradans -- and I intend to keep on doing that.
"And a similar case can be made for targeted tax breaks, as well. Still, we all know some bills have included spending earmarks or special tax breaks that might not have been approved if they were considered separately.
"That's why the president - like his predecessors - has asked for the kind of "line-item veto" that can be used by governors in Colorado and several other states. And that's why about ten years ago Congress actually passed a law intended to give President Clinton that kind of authority.
"But the Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the legislation was unconstitutional. And I think the Court got it right. I think trying to allow the president to in effect repeal a part of a law he has already signed - and saying it takes a two-thirds vote in both Houses of Congress to restore that part - went too far. I think that kind of line-item veto would undermine the checks and balances between the Executive and Legislative branches of the government. So, I could not support that kind of line-item veto.
"This bill is different. It is a practical, effective - and, best of all, Constitutional - version of a line-item veto. It is not unprecedented. It follows the approach of legislation passed by the House of Representatives several times during the Clinton Administration under the leadership of our former colleague Charlie Stenholm and others, including Tom Carper, Tim Penny and John Kasich.
"It also is similar to bills I introduced under the heading of measures to Stimulate Leadership in Cutting Expenditures,' or SLICE.' Under this bill -- as under SLICE -- the president could identify specific spending items he thinks should be cut - and Congress would have to vote, up or down, on whether to cut each of them. Current law says the president can ask Congress to cancel spending items. But Congress can ignore those requests, and often has done so.
"This bill would change that. It says if the president proposes a specific cut, Congress can't duck - it would have to vote on it, and if a majority approved the cut, that would be that. So, it would give the president a bright spotlight of publicity he could focus on earmarks or special tax breaks, and it would force Congress to debate those items on their merits. That would give the president a powerful tool - but it also would retain the balance between the Executive and Legislative branches.
"I think that is very important, and I appreciate having had the opportunity to work with Mr. Ryan and others to fine-tune the bill while it was being considered in committee. I think the result has been to improve the bill considerably.
"Mr. Speaker, under the Constitution Congress is primarily accountable to the American people for how their tax dollars are spent. By making the taxing and spending processes more transparent and specific, this bill can promote that accountability.
"Of course, without knowing what the president might propose to rescind, I don't know if I would support some, all, or any of his proposals. But I do know that people in Colorado and across the country think there should be greater transparency about our decisions on taxing and spending. And I know that they are also demanding that we be ready to take responsibility for those decisions. This bill will promote both transparency and accountability, and so I urge its approval."