Saturday, March 7, 2009

A line against spending abuse

The following appeared in a recent edition of the Wisconsin State Journal.

The 8,750 add-ons that bloated Congress' recent federal spending bill by $7.7 billion revealed a glaring weakness in how Washington, D.C., works.

Or, more correctly, doesn't work.

The weakness is the lack of a line-item veto to allow presidents to save taxpayers from the costly pork that members of Congress slip into spending bills as favors to narrow interests.

Wisconsin's Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, along with Republican Sen. John McCain, are promoting a bill that would gratn the president modified line-item veto powers.

Congress should adopt it.

At stake is the president's ability to serve as a check on legislative abuses by Congress.

A line-item veto gives an executive the power to strike specific provisions from a bill before it becomes law.

Forty-three governors, including Wisconsin's, have line-item veto powers. President Bill Clinton briefly wielded a presidential line-item veto, but the Supreme Court ruled that particular veto unconstitutional.

The new proposal from Feingold, Ryan and McCain is modified to meet the Supreme Court's objections. The plan requires the president to submit his line-item vetoes to Congress within 30 days of signing a bill.

Congress would then accept or reject the vetoes, as one package, by majority vote within 12 days.

The limited veto bears no resemblance to the Frankenstein veto powers that formerly allowed Wisconsin governors to rewrite legislative intent. Wisconsin voters banned the Frankenstein veto last year after a campaign by the State Journal editiorial board.

The new federal proposal is aimed at reining in pork-barrel spending, the practice of allowing lawmakers to gain favor, or return favors, back home.

The name for the process the results in pork-barrel spending is earmarking. An earmark allows a member of Congress to reserve money for a project, even though no federal agency has requested funding for the project.

Not all earmarks are pork. But earmarks often pose the risk of waste and even corruption because they are attached to large spending bills, where they slip through without separate debate.

Furthermore, earmarks have far outgrown their place, as demonstrated by the 8,750 earmarks in the recent $410 billion federal agency spending bill.

Through a line-item veto, a president would have the power to rescind wasteful earmarks and force Congress to publicly vote on them as a separate package.

In the name of fiscal responsibility, Congress should approve a limited line-item veto for the president.

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