Bush Seeks Legislative Slim-Fast

President Bush is asking for extended recission authority – the right to force Congress to make an up-or-down vote on a porkbarrel project in a bill. In 1996 the Republican Congress passed the line-item veto that would allow the President to directly excise unnecessary riders to a bill. The Supreme Court upheld a Circuit Court ruling striking down the line-item veto in 1998 in the case of Clinton v. City of New York (985 F. Supp. 168). The Court felt that the line-item veto allowed the President to make de facto amendments to acts of the legislature – thus violating the principle of separation of powers.

This bill is designed to make an end-run around Clinton by not allowing the President to do directly interfere in the affairs of the Legislative Branch. However, the Courts may find that this bill also violates separation of powers – the President is still interfering with the text of a bill rather than performing the function of the excutive to either veto or pass a bill. It would appear that this new recission authority exists in a legal grey area at best – and could very well be unconstitutional as demanded.

There’s also the political concern over this bill. Imagine a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress working together to ensure that spending bills that benefitted Republican members of Congress were forced onto the floor while Democratic spending was not made to endure an up-or-down vote. Such a scenario is hardly unthinkable in today’s hyper-partisan climate.

The President’s heart is in the right place, but the fact is that the power of the purse is Constitutionally given to the legislative branch, and if President Bush wants to control spending then he must gather the political will to veto legislation that is saddled with pork. The President has not once used his veto powers, even when signing acts into law like the pork-stuffed Farm Bill and Highway Bills. It’s hardly surprising that many are looking at President Bush’s newfound sense of fiscal rectitude with suspicion – Bush has never been a budget hawk and it’s more than a little late for him to start now.

Congress needs to reform itself. It should pass rules that prevent bills from becoming mere vehicles for pork. They have plenty of options – a return to the PAYGO rules of the Budget Enforcement Act, single-issue rules for legislation, controls on the number of riders, mandating that all legislation be read on the floor before bringing in a vote. Controlling spending is not a function of the Executive aside from suggesting budgets and vetoing legislation. Bush can’t let Congress pass the buck on spending to him, and while this recission authority is tempting, it’s not the right solution towards tipping over the pork barrel.

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