Obama asks Congress for added power to slash spending measures

The White House called for a new presidential power Monday to slash spending that would be similar to a line-item veto.

The "expedited rescission authority" that President Barack Obama is sending to Congress this week would allow the president to propose a package of cuts to recently signed spending measures and then force Congress to take up-or-down votes on it. Those cuts would become law if they received a majority of votes in both chambers.

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"Here we are a providing a way for the president to give the knife back to Congress for it to cut unnecessary fat," said White House Budget Director Peter Orszag in a conference call.

The president could propose cuts to provisions for new discretionary and non-entitlement mandatory spending but not to tax measures or Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security. The current budget rules allow the president to propose rescissions to approved spending but they don't allow him to force lawmakers to vote on them.

Like a line-item veto, the proposed authority would let the president target specific provisions in a spending bill so that he wouldn't have to veto the entire measure. Unlike the line-item veto, which was signed by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s but ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the power proposed by Obama would subject the president's cuts to a review by Congress.

President George W. Bush had pushed for a revised line-item veto bill in 2006, but it stalled in Congress largely because of the opposition of most Democrats, including then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Bush's proposal came up for a Senate vote in January 2007, then-Sens. Obama and Joe Biden voted with Reid against the measure.

Pelosi said Monday that Congress and the administration must "continue to do everything in our power" to boost the economic recovery and rein in deficits, but she stopped short of backing Obama's proposal for expanded authority.

“We look forward to reviewing the president’s proposal and working together to do what’s right for our nation’s fiscal health and security, now and in the future,” Pelosi said.

Blue Dog Democrats, House Republicans and a group of fiscal hawks in the Senate led by Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have pushed recently for similar rescission powers.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), a member of Blue Dogs' leadership, called Obama's proposal a "significant step."

"We have a responsibility to work together to see that this important legislation ultimately reaches the president’s desk," Matheson said Monday.

He pushed both sides to do more than "talking tough" about spending cuts.

"It’s where the rubber meets the road that members on both sides of the aisle have fallen short," Matheson said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said GOP members were "pleased" the president was trying to show fiscal discipline, but Boehner noted that Obama has yet to use his ability to propose rescissions under the current budget rules, as House GOP leaders have asked him to do. 

“Instead, President Obama continues to put off this important work, missing critical opportunities to stop the out-of-control spending spree that economists say is hurting our economy and slowing the creation of new jobs," Boehner said in a statement.

-- This article was updated at 1:29 p.m.