Line-item veto bill hits Senate wall

The House-passed line-item veto bill, which has been endorsed by the White House, is on life support in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

More than four months after the House approved the measure, co-sponsored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the Senate hasn’t touched it.

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Both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) voted for the bill that passed the lower chamber 254-173. The White House said it “strongly supports” that measure, claiming it would help “eliminate unnecessary spending and discouraging waste.”

Shortly following House-passage — with 57 Democrats voting in favor of the bill and 41 Republicans opposing it — Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) offered an identical bill in the upper chamber.

McCaskill’s bill has languished in the Senate's Budget Committee. Despite interest on the part of other senators such as Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) and Colorado Sen. Mark Udall (D), McCaskill’s bill has no co-sponsors.

“We need to be using every possible tool to bring down federal spending. A line-item veto is something I’ve advocated for since I arrived in the Senate, and now that the House has finally acted, it’s time for the Senate to take up and pass this bill right away,” McCaskill said as she unveiled her legislation.

A source close to McCaskill, who is facing a tough reelection, told The Hill that the senator is working to build support for this legislation as well as other measures to cut spending.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who sets the Senate floor schedule, has previously voted against line-item veto legislation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, supported the bill that Reid rejected in the 1990s. Reid’s office did not comment for this article.

Van Hollen believes there is “broad, bipartisan support” for the measure that would give the president the authority to propose spending cuts in appropriations bills that Congress sends to his desk. Under an expedited process, those recommendations would then be voted on by Congress without amendments.

Proponents of cutting government spending succeeded in creating a line-item veto power for then-President Clinton in 1996. But critics of the law, including the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), legally challenged it. The Supreme Court subsequently ruled it unconstitutional as an abdication of congressional authority over power of the purse.

The Ryan-Van Hollen bill seeks to comply with that ruling by requiring Congress to take an up-or-down vote on any cuts sought by the White House.           

Van Hollen told The Hill that House lawmakers pressed their Senate counterparts to move the bill shortly after its passage in early February.

“We’ll have to take another run at that,” Van Hollen said.

While Pelosi voted for the bill, her fellow Democratic leadership team did not: Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Assistant Leader James Clyburn (S.C.), caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) and Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) all voted against the bipartisan measure.

At the time, Hoyer, a former appropriator, said he supported expedited rescission authority but added he opposes portions of the specific language approved by the House because it would allow the president to reduce funding altogether rather than simply object to money being spent on a specific project.



“I think that diminishes the authority of the Congress under Article I to establish spending levels and appropriate funds to priorities that it deems appropriate,” Hoyer told reporters.