White House Proposes an Alternative to the Line-Item Veto

By Alex Pepper

May 24, 2010 1:34pm

From Sunlen Miller

As an alternative to the line-item veto, today President Obama sent a package to Congress to "streamline" the process of deleting individual items from spending bills. The Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010, first reported by Politico would allow the president to submit a package of rescissions shortly after a spending bill is passed.

“It’s another tool adding to the arsenal on cutting back on unnecessary spending,” OMB director Peter Orszag said on a conference call today with reporters. “It is not a panacea, but it is an important additional tool.”

Congress would be required to consider the recommendation as a package, without amendment and with “a guaranteed up-or-down vote” on the package of rescissions the president has sent back. 

Administration officials characterized this as a “fast-track” approach — the president has 45 days during which congress is in session to decide whether to submit a rescission package. The president is almost limited to a single package of rescissions per bill. Debate is limited in both houses, and the package is guaranteed an up or down vote without amendment. Congress will have 25 days to act.

“The proposal has been crafted to preserve the constitutional balance of power between the president and congress,” OMB Acting Deputy Director Jeffrey Liebman says.

This is in contrast to the line item veto that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1998.

“Here the president has to send legislation back to the congress and the congress has to act on it, albeit in an expedited way,” Orszag said. “The line item veto gave the knife to the president that was unconstitutional. Here we are providing a way for the president to give the knife back to congress to help it cut out unnecessary fat.”

The political climate – administration officials say – is ripe for action, even though members of Congress have been hesitant in the past giving up such powers of the purse to the president.

“The fiscal context has changed,” Orszag insisted, “I would say the combination of the interest among those in the congress who have actually been putting forward legislation.  Plus ongoing concern which we share about the need to eliminate unnecessary spending whenever and wherever possible justifies this legislation.”

Congressional leaders began receiving briefings this morning on the proposal and on Wednesday Jeff Liebman will be on the Hill, before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.

-Sunlen Miller

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