Enact Feingold-McCain Line Item Veto

I have to admit that as a fierce supporter of our Constitutional separation of powers, I was very skeptical when I heard of the new "line-item veto" proposal by Sens. McCain (R-AZ) and Feingold (D-WI), and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), that would allow the president to single out specific spending items in a bill and send them back to Congress for review. After all, the Constitution expressly grants to the Congress and not to the President the power of the purse. Implicit in that power is to structure that spending anyway it pleases, and given to the President is the power to accept or reject the entire act of Congress, not pieces of it. Anything other than this would alter the Constitutional balance of power between Congress and the President.

But then, I started reading what was actually being proposed. Sen. Feingold's press release lays it out.
First, it calmed my fears of fundamental alterations in the balance of power. What McCain, Feingold and Ryan are proposing is that within 30 days of signing a spending legislation, the President be required to send back to Congress any request to rescind funding for any part of the bill (i.e. any line item in the bill), upon which both houses of Congress will be required to act within 12 days. If either the House or the Senate fails to pass it, the bill rescission is not enacted. In other words, it preserves Congress' power to control the purse strings, and merely enables the president to request a review of Congress of items he considers a bad idea. It's not a "veto" in the traditional sense. A veto would take two thirds vote in each house of Congress to override; a request to reconsider a spending item will not stand if simply one house refuses to uphold it.

The benefits of this legislation are many. Without demogoging the issue of earmarks - frankly, I believe there is a good use of the process to fund important items that may not be able to pass on their own - it is universally recognized that a ton of unproductive legislative pet projects slip through the process - especially if the project is a pet of a powerful (or a powerfully corrupt) member of Congress. Cronyism occurs, members of Congress make sure their political beneficiaries get the federal money to enrich themselves, and all the rest. This legislation will help the president point out the specific items and make the lawmakers defend them in the eyes of the public. It gives more transparency to the process without fundamentally altering the balance of power. At a time when the economy is taking a nosedive, the federal government needs to tighten its belt. We must make the much needed investments in education, health care, environment and public safety that have been ignored for so long. That is why it is even more important that unnecessary spending be subject to greater scrutiny

I urge everyone to read Sen. Feingold's press release, and keep in mind the following bullet points about the bill. It will, as Sen. Feingold says,
  • Ensure timely congressional consideration of earmark rescission requests by the President. This will enable the president to propose the removal of wasteful earmarks from legislation that arrives on his desk for signature and send these earmarks back to Congress for expedited votes on whether or not to rescind funding.
  • Give the House and Senate 12 legislative days after the President sends a rescission request to Congress to bring a rescission bill for consideration on the floor of the full House and Senate.
  • Respect and preserve Congress’ constitutional responsibilities by requiring that both the House and Senate pass a rescission request before it can become law. If either the House or Senate votes against a rescission by a simple majority, it is not enacted.
  • Require the President to submit earmark rescission requests to Congress within 30 calendar days of signing a bill into law.
  • Limit the number of rescission requests per bill, to guard against gridlock in Congress due to multiple rescission proposals. Under this legislation, the President can propose one rescission package per ordinary bill, or two rescission packages for omnibus legislation. Each rescission request may include multiple earmarks.
  • Sunset at the end of 2014, after two presidential administrations have had the opportunity to work with Congress to employ this tool to control spending. The sunset provision would give Congress the ability to review this legislation and decide whether to renew it.