Echoes of Reagan: Obama to ask Congress for updated line-item veto

President Barack Obama plans to ask Congress for a tool similar to a line-item veto that would let him single out new spending for cuts.

The president will send to the Hill before the Memorial Day recess a proposal for "enhanced rescission authority," under which he could propose cuts to a spending measure within 45 days after signing it into law, an administration official said.

Congress would then have to vote on the president's cuts as a package that couldn't be amended, the official said.

The line-item veto sought by past presidents, notably President Ronald Reagan, would have let them strip specific items from spending bills before signing them into law. But after Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed such legislation, the Supreme Court in 1998 struck it down. The Court ruled that the president can't veto portions of a spending bill and must instead "approve all the parts of a bill, or reject it in toto."

The White House is proposing the new power to cut spending as Democrats try to grapple with large deficits, which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects will average nearly $1 trillion for the next decade. Wary of subjecting Democratic lawmakers to a tough vote on the debt in an election year, congressional leaders have yet to decide whether to push for the annual budget resolution.

The administration official noted that rescission power is part of a "bigger picture" in the administration's efforts to deal with the deficits. The president has established a bipartisan fiscal commission of lawmakers and economic experts to produce a plan to reduce red ink.

He has also called for a three-year freeze on discretionary spending unrelated to national security.

Lawmakers from both parties who back a presidential line-item veto praised Obama's latest proposal but said he needs to do more to tackle spending.

"While an important tool, a line-item veto cannot stop Washington’s unchecked spending spree and the glaring lack of a budget for the upcoming fiscal year," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has proposed a line-item veto bill with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

Ryan said he's "eager" to work with the president and lawmakers to pass a line-item veto that's constitutional.

Feingold said he was "very pleased" by news that Obama will push for the rescission power.

"With soaring deficits, we need more tools to stop unnecessary and wasteful spending that Congress has so far been unwilling to give up," Feingold said in a statement.

Any measure that looks like line-item veto would likely run into opposition by Congressional leaders and members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, the lawmakers in charge of the spending bills that would be affected by new presidential rescission powers.

Four years ago, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he likes "the line-item veto about like I like a bad sore throat."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also opposed a line-item veto when President George W. Bush backed it.

Joe Minarik, a senior official in Clinton's White House Office of Management and Budget, said that Republicans, hoping for congressional majorities in coming years, will be reluctant to give Obama more power while Democrats may be divided over the proposal.

"On the one hand, they'll want to support the president and show party unity," Minarik said. "On the other hand, you'll have members who support the prerogatives of the Congress [on spending bills]."