Yes to the line-item veto

It was good enough for Ronald Reagan and most governors, and should be good enough for any president if it can pass constitutional muster with the Supremes.

The reconstituted effort to make a run at a presidential line-item veto is, just as it was in the Reagan years, one of the most responsible, common-sense, intellectually honest moves toward cutting wasteful federal spending in existence. Although it came at Reagan’s urging, it came too late for him. But President Clinton enjoyed the privilege before it was ruled unconstitutional in 1998. 

ADVERTISEMENT
A line-item veto would lend a sharper, more surgical focus to the annual budget debate, forcing accountability onto the president and Congress as a whole, as well as its individual members. A line-item veto basically leaves our elected officials in Washington with nowhere to hide, which is why it is both surprising and delightful there is growing bipartisan Senate support for the measure. Earmarks are no longer stylish.

This latest bipartisan effort, led by Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Democratic Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), is a somewhat modified version of the law struck down in 1998, giving the president 45 days to delete non-mandatory spending items after signing a bill into law. Congress would then have 10 days to approve or reject the president’s cuts with a simple majority.

The late Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) made many of his colleagues uncomfortable, and even angry, with his attention-getting “Golden Fleece” awards, bestowed on the most egregious abuses in the budget. ($107,000 to study the sex life of the Japanese quail is a favorite.) He made his point well. But while the Golden Fleece “winners” were almost exclusively the silly and the obvious, the line-item veto in a modern incarnation can result in significant savings, allowing for cuts beyond embarrassing buried pet projects and fish-in-a-barrel targets.

With our national debt now even with our gross domestic product, we’ve surpassed the silly and obvious — the hallmarks of the Golden Fleece awards. We’ve now reached a level of the frightening and ridiculous. As such, the proposal by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) to return federal spending to 20.6 percent of the GDP, the average of federal spending from 1970 to 2008, is triage as opposed to cruel, as some have tried to paint it. (It also “un-entitles” entitlement programs, paving the way for Washington to face reality and go after the big stuff.) That, along with the line-item veto, will save us from catastrophe.

Some Republicans might not trust President Obama to veto spending they loathe, or fear he will cut spending they favor. Likewise for Democrats when a Republican occupies the Oval Office. But we should give a president — any president — the benefit of the doubt to do the right thing while entrusting him with the veto pen. In a couple years, it could be in the capable hands of a former governor accustomed to a line-item veto and fiscal accountability who wins the White House precisely for that reason.

Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.