January 28, 2006

This Weekend’s Unanswered Questions (012806)

This is another installment in a nearly-regular series of mysteries and pseudo-mysteries (usually 3-4) this inquiring mind would like to have answers for (some links included may require free registration).

Today’s questions relate to the renewed interest in getting a grip on federal spending.

QUESTION 1: Whatever happened to the line-item veto?

A pet project of conservatives in the early and mid-1990s, the idea was to give the president the ability to veto individual items in a spending bill instead of facing the all-on-none choice he must deal with today. This would give the president the ability to excise pork, and would make congressmen less likely to insert pork into legislation in the first place.

The quick answer to the question is that the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1998. The law that was voided let the president sign a bill and gave him five days go back and reject specific spending items or tax breaks in it; Congress could then reinstate the item by passing a separate bill.

But the longer answer to Question 1 is that it shouldn’t have dropped off the radar. I believe that a slightly modified line-item veto, if passed this year, would be upheld by The Supremes:

  • The 1998 vote was 6-3, with Scalia, O’Connor, and Breyer dissenting.
  • Congressmen and Senators at the time of the court’s ruling promised to make another try at a line-item veto (technically “enhanced recission”), but nothing ever happened. President Clinton was in favor of the law the Supreme Court nullified. There should be no shortage of enthusiasm for passing another bill.
  • Rehnquist, who voted with the majority, has been replaced by Roberts, and O’Connor, who dissented, is being replaced by Alito. Since both new would appear to be receptive to the line-item veto, that should be a pickup of one vote.
  • Clarence Thomas’s vote with the majority was seen as a surprise at the time (as was Rehnquest’s), and I suspect that there is a bill with language that he would approve. There’s your 5-4 majority updholding the line-item veto.

I say give it a shot. Since it’s not truly a line-item veto in the pure sense, give it another name, so maybe the court won’t get “faked out,” as some believe occurred in 1998.

QUESTION 2: Why aren’t we hearing about repealing the 1974 Budget Act?

Let’s go to OpinionJournal.com:

This disastrous law, enacted by arguably the most liberal Congress in history, was designed to make it easier to spend, and one of the ways it did so was by stripping the President of the power to impound funds. The impoundment power was used by every President from Jefferson to Nixon to refuse to spend money if the funds were unnecessary. FDR used it to cancel billions of dollars that had been appropriated for domestic agencies so that every available dollar could be devoted to the war.

The Constitution gives Congress the “power of the purse” through its authority to “appropriate funds.” But it also gives the executive branch the broad authority to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” and historically that has meant the power not to spend money when the funds are not necessary.

The 1974 Act is probably the most damaging legacy of the year of Watergate (the bill was passed because Congress knew that a weakened President Nixon wouldn’t dare veto it). The Act essentially represented an annual demand by Congress that all money appropriated be spent, and took away the President’s historical ability to cancel needless spending. Somehow the Republic had survived for almost 200 years up to that point with the President having that power.

I agree. Repeal it.

QUESTION 3: Why is John Shadegg getting a pass for his involvement in questionable legislation and with lobbyists?

He’s saying all the right things but he hasn’t done all the right things. Links:

  • Porkopolis — Look for the pull-down bar on the right that reads “Western Cotton Research Lab.” Keep in mind as you go through the gory details of this federal land giveaway that Mr. Shadegg was involved in it as a co-sponsor of the original bill allowing it.
  • The Phoenix-area’s East Valley Tribune also did a story, with significant Porkopolis input, on the free land transfer.
  • Porkopolis also did a post on Shadegg’s lobbying connections in response to the Fox News segment on Shadegg that ignored readily available information.

Maybe Shadegg is the best of the three people competing for Majority Leader right now. If so, maybe that also means that none of the three are acceptable.
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UPDATE, Jan. 29: Captain Ed also weighed in on this yesterday — “If the Journal and the blogosphere wants to get serious about corruption and spending, then we need to attack it at its source: the expansion of federal power over the last seventy years. Only by making government smaller and reducing its reach, both legal and financial, into the lives of citizens will spending and corruption decrease. In the meantime, attacking earmarks will provide us the necessary momentum and training to go after the serious spending later on.”

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