Iowans divided as House passes "legislative line-item veto" bill

Most governors have the power to veto specific line items in appropriations bills, and many deficit hawks believe bills passed by Congress should be subject to the same kind of scrutiny. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that it is unconstitutional to give the president line-item veto power over appropriations bills. Seeking a way around that problem, the House approved a bill yesterday that would allow the president to recommend budget rescissions for Congress to consider. The legislation attracted an unusually bipartisan group of supporters and opponents.

H.R. 3521 is known as the Expedited Legislative Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act. The name sounds like an oxymoron, because line-item veto power typically resides with the executive. This bill would not empower the president to remove any budget appropriations. Instead, the president would have 45 days after passage to recommend rescissions. Congress would still have the final call on the specific line items.

The House approved the bill by 254 votes to 173, and the roll call shows an unusual split in the Iowa delegation and in the House as a whole. Tom Latham (IA-04) was one of the 197 Republicans supporting the bill, and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) were among the 57 Democrats to vote yes. The 41 Republicans and 132 Democrats who voted against this bill included Steve King (IA-05) and Bruce Braley (IA-01).

So far Braley and King have not responded to my request for comment on this vote; I will update the post if I receive any explanation. Both of them have frequently spoken about the need to reduce unnecessary government spending, although they have very different views on which programs should be cut.

My hunch is that King’s objections echo points House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers raised during floor debate on the bill:

“This bill is constitutional,” [House Budget Committee Chair Paul] Ryan said at the start of the debate. He said that the 1996 line-item veto was ultimately struck down as unconstitutional because it gave the President the authority to actually cut spending he opposed. This bill, Ryan explained, only gives the president the authority to recommend cuts.

But in response, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the Constitution gives the power of the purse only to Congress, and that the bill under debate would undermine that rule.

“The Line-Item Veto would weaken that power, shifting budgetary authority to the Executive Branch and giving the President a power that our Founding Fathers did not see fit to give him,” Rogers said. “The Framers would surely shake their heads at the idea of transferring this much authority to the Executive Branch.”

Rogers also argued that the bill would do little to save money, as former President Clinton used his line-item veto authority only to see Congress overturn it.

I didn’t see any public statement from Boswell on why he supported the bill. Here is the statement released from Loebsack’s office:

Loebsack Cosponsored Legislation to Reign [sic] in Unnecessary Spending Passes House

The bipartisan “Legislative Line-item Veto” helps ensure Congress spends wisely

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack today released the following statement after the House passed legislation that will help reign [sic] in Congressional spending.  Loebsack is a cosponsor of the Expedited Legislative Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act (H.R. 3521), which would establish a process to ensure Congress has an up or down vote on specific items the President proposes to cut in spending bills.  Similar bipartisan legislation is pending in the Senate and the President has signaled his support for the bill.

“As a father and a grandfather, I am deeply concerned about the long-term deficit and the impact of our country’s unsustainable debt on the future of our economy.  We must take every reasonable step to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are spent wisely and this legislation is a step in the right direction.  This bipartisan bill also demonstrates that when Congress works together, meaningful results can be accomplished.”

This legislation would allow the President to specify specific cuts within an appropriations bill, and reductions take effect if Congress approves cancelling the funding.  The bill ensures an up-or-down vote by requiring expedited consideration of the President’s proposed cuts. Should Congress approve the President’s proposed cuts, every dollar of savings would be devoted to deficit reduction.

Latham’s office released this statement:

LATHAM SUPPORTS LINE-ITEM VETO LEGISLATION TO ELIMINATE IRRESPONSIBLE SPENDING

 LEGISLATION PAVES WAY TO LOWER DEFICITS AND SAVED TAX DOLLARS

WASHINGTON, DC – Iowa Congressman Tom Latham on Wednesday voted in favor of a bipartisan effort to give the office of the presidency line-item veto authority.

Congressman Latham said the initiative provides for an additional tool to cut irresponsible federal spending and reduce the national debt, which has topped $15 trillion.  

“A child born today in the United States already owes about $50,000 to cover our federal debt.  Washington has piled a mountain of debt on our children and grandchildren, and it’s time for Congress and the White House to come together and get serious about fiscal responsibility,” Congressman Latham said.  “We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and we won’t get out of it overnight.  But the line-item veto can be a common-sense tool in the fight to get our nation out of this cycle of debt, doubt and despair.”

The legislation, HR 3521, would allow the president to pick out specific spending items in legislation to which they object.  Congress would then hold an up-or-down vote to eliminate the spending measures highlighted by the White House.  The requirement for congressional approval means the power of the purse remains in the legislative branch, in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.  Finally, the proposal contains a mandate that any spending eliminated under the legislation would be applied to pay down the debt.

The House of Representatives approved the legislation by a vote of 254 to 173.

“Hardworking Americans are telling Washington to put people before politics and progress before partisanship,” Congressman Latham said. “This is a realistic approach that should bring real results in our mission for a Washington that spends within its means just like any Iowa family does.”

Speaking of government spending, Alexander Bolton reports that some Congressional Republicans want to lift the moratorium on earmarks. Last week 13 GOP senators voted against a Republican proposal to ban earmarks permanently. Iowa’s Chuck Grassley voted for the earmark ban, which supporters tried to attach to a bill prohibiting insider trading by members of Congress. Contrary to popular belief, earmarks don’t add to the federal deficit. They merely give legislators more control over how federal funds are allocated.  

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