The measure considered by the House, the Expedited Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act, would empower the President to withhold funding from spending bills approved by the congress, and force the congress to reconsider whatever spending package the president returns for additional debate.
Currently, the chief executive must sign or veto spending bills in their entirety.
“Senator Byrd is looking down on the Capitol today, shaking his head at this unconstitutional power grab by the presidency,” Rahall said. “It empowers the president to unilaterally rewrite spending bills approved by the Congress - giving the president an enormous amount of authority in deciding which federal investments may go forward in West Virginia,”
Other opposition came from members of the Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for putting together the annual spending bills, who argued that the bill upsets the constitutional separation of powers balance, in favor of the executive branch, and that recent efforts to curtail so-called earmarks in spending bills make the line-item veto unnecessary.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, (R-Ky.), said he opposed the measure because it would weaken the authority of Congress and give the president “a power that our founding fathers did not see fit to give to him.”
He added that a president can use the line-item veto to give preferences to his own spending priorities.
Supporters say the bill has been written to meet constitutional standards. They say that while the president can propose items for rescission, or elimination, Congress must vote on the revised spending package and then the president must sign what is in effect a new bill.
“I cannot understand this mentality, especially amongst members who have been so vocal in opposing the President’s budget agenda, to shift even more control to the president in making spending decisions,” Rahall said.
Under the proposal, the president has 45 days within the enactment of a spending bill to send a special message to Congress proposing cuts to any amount of discretionary, or non-entitlement, spending. Legislation to consider the proposed cuts would move quickly to the House and Senate floors for automatic up-or-down votes with no amendments.
The White House, in a statement, said it “strongly supports” passage of the bill, praising it for “helping to eliminate unnecessary spending and discouraging waste.” It said the bill was similar to a line-item veto proposal that Obama sent to Congress in May 2010.
Rahall has been a consistent critic of giving the President a line-item veto authority. He opposed the Line-Item Veto Act of 1996, which gave President Bill Clinton a line-item veto.
Clinton exercised that authority 82 times, and although Congress overrode his veto in 38 instances, the moves saved the government almost $2 billion. The U.S. Supreme Court later invalidated the measure on a 6-3 vote in 1998, citing the bill’s impermissible grant of authority to the President that would disrupt the Constitutional system of checks and balances; that Congress, and not the executive branch, holds the power of the purse.
“A president running for reelection could abuse this authority to create political mayhem in an election year, or even to try to cajole members of congress into supporting the president’s agenda by threatening to delay or veto funds for programs important to a member’s state,” Rahall said.
“We must make some painful spending decisions in order to get the budget back on a balanced path, but that does not justify giving this president - or any president, Democrat or Republican - such sweeping power. The Supreme Court invalidated the last line-item veto bill 15 years ago. This measure deserves a similar fate,” Rahall said.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 254-173, supported by 57 Democrats and opposed by 41 Republicans, and now moves to the Senate for consideration, where its prospects are uncertain.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.