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A Practical and Constitutional Version of the Line-Item Veto


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By Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO)

Our federal budget is on a dangerous course marked by tidal waves of red ink and towering piles of debt. Since 2001, the budget surplus has been erased and our country in further in debt to the tune of $8 trillion. Unless there are changes, the budget process is apt to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush asked Congress to pass the line item veto constitutional amendment. It's an old idea, but before partisan rhetoric or a rerun of past debates overcomes common sense, we should consider approaching it in a different way.

Every President since George Washington has wanted a line-item veto, and in 1996 the Republican Congress passed a line-item veto bill that President Clinton, signing it, said would "help us to cut waste and to balance the budget." But in 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that the legislation was unconstitutional in Clinton v. City of New York.

That ruling was sound and instead of trying to find some way to get around it, Congress and the Administration should work together to pass bipartisan legislation to slice fat from the federal budget. That's why I have introduced legislation with Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) that would provide a practical, effective and, best of all, constitutional version of a line item veto.

The bill, H.R. 4699, is called the "Stimulating Leadership in Cutting Expenditures" -- or SLICE - Act of 2006. It would authorize the president to identify specific items of federal spending that he thinks should be cut and would require Congress to vote on each of those items. It would apply not only to regular spending items, but also to the transportation bill that was passed and signed into law last year.

Current law says the president can propose rescinding or canceling spending, but Congress can, and almost invariably does, ignore those proposals. The bill would change that, so if the president proposes a specific cut, Congress would have to vote on it. If a majority approved the cut, it would take effect.

This would enable the president to shine the spotlight on excessive spending, member projects or other spending, and force them to be debated on their merits. At the same time, it would maintain the proper balance between the Executive and Legislative branches.

Under the Constitution, Congress is primarily accountable to the American people for how their tax dollars are spent. By making the process more transparent and specific, the bill would promote that accountability while also enabling the president to exercise leadership that reflects a national rather than parochial perspective.

Of course, without knowing which spending the president might propose to cut, I don't know if I would support some, all, or any of his proposals. But I do know that instead of reviving debate about the constitutionality of the line item veto, we can work across party lines to achieve a better alternative.

In the face of the 9/11 attacks, homeland security needs, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and two hurricanes it is time for the president and Congress to call on our fellow Americans for sacrifice. We can all agree that federal spending has skyrocketed out of control and we simply must respond to the fiscal and economic risks we have been running. There is an urgent need for both the Bush Administration and Congress to face hard reality and not continue with budget policies based on defying the laws of fiscal gravity.

A constitutional amendment could take years to pass. It is past time for a serious debate on specific proposals to dig ourselves out of the deficit hole. The SLICE bill is intended to get that debate started now.

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