Line-Item Veto: A Much-Needed Scalpel

At the root of runaway congressional spending and an ever-increasing national deficit is an even bigger problem — the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974.

The current budget act makes entitlement and tax reforms difficult to manuever — something Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) is determined to change during his tenure in Congress.

“I’m a big believer that the 1974 Budget Act is sort of the root cause of the process of growing government and keeping taxes and spending artificially high, and thwarting efforts to limit government,” he told a group of conservative bloggers, who gathered yesterday for their weekly meeting on Capitol Hill.

Other fiscal House conservatives have joined Ryan in his crusade to correct the monetary crises facing the federal government — among them, Reps. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) and Mike Pence (Ind.), famed for their work as leaders in the Republican Study Committee.

Back in 2004, the group proposed the Family Budget Protection Act (H.R. 2290) to replace the 1974 budget act. All 16 of the act’s reform measures were denied passage by appropriators and the Democrats.

But in recent months the nation has awakened in part to Congress’s perpetual spending sprees, pressuring GOP leaders into negotiations with more conservatives members of the party in order to save face. Ryan said these discussions have produced four key budget reform measures:

  1. Earmark reform (passed in the lobbying disclosure bill but still being improved)
  2. Rainy Day Fund for Emergency Spending (H.Con.Res. 376) (for cleaning up the big loop-hole in emergency spending bill passed a few weeks back)
  3. Sunset Commission (“Making sure that no government program is on permanent autopilot.”)
  4. And the Legislative Line Item Veto (H.R. 4890)

It’s the last of these items, the line-item veto, that the congressman is currently pushing in full force.

While earmark reform attacks pork projects at the front end of the spending process, he said the line-item veto would catch them on the latter end — as the bills move out of conference and onto the floor.

“That is where a lot of mischief happens,” Ryan said. “That’s why it’s important to have this tool at the end of the process.”

Currently, he explained, Congress only gets one vote on a conference report — whether to pass it in its entirety or not. The same thing goes for the President — he signs or vetoes the bill as a whole.

“The line-item veto is a scalpel that’s needed to go after individual wasteful spending projects,” Ryan said. “And, it’s a tool to embarrass such things from getting put into these bills in the first place.”

In the past the line-item veto failed because aspects of the bill were found to be unconstitutional. But he says the newly revamped line-item veto maintains the separation of powers demanded by the Constitution because it gives Congress the final say.

The bill mandates a timely, up-or-down vote on presidential rescissions of the budget in both the House and Senate — essentially a re-vote on each individual item. Without this legislation, Ryan says there’s no way to maintain accountability and transparency.

The bill is scheduled to be marked up next week and debated on the floor the week after.

“This is a baby step on the road to fiscal discipline,” he said. “This is one brick in the dike against the future flood of big government coming through this country.

“It’s about changing the culture of Congress and reclaiming the culture of the Republican party to yet again be that party of freedom-loving, limited government Republicans and conservatives.”