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Let the People Decide

March 4, 1993



IS there a line-item veto in President Clinton's future? The likelihood of such a concession by Congress appears closer than anyone would have thought before the recent election.

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Should Congress concede this power, which has been denied all previous presidents including George Bush, it most likely would not be as far-reaching as that enjoyed by 43 state governors. Its first, and principal, use would be to curb "pork barrel" politics. That is the loading up of major appropriations bills with funds for projects back home that help the officeholder as well as his or her constituents. Many of the "pork" provisions are added to major appropriations packages at the last minute, thus es caping scrutiny. And it must be acknowledged that many serve legitimate needs of the states, counties, and municipalities.

But what is palatable pork in good times can turn rancid in a recession, and though there are signs that the United States economy is improving, the monolithic federal debt has rendered pork out of fashion. Lawmakers are taking second and third looks at their own favorite projects and deciding that a non-pork political diet might be best for the country and for their own constituents in the long run.

Coincident with Mr. Clinton's election, many lawmakers are changing their minds about what most call a limited line-item veto (which should not be confused with a balanced-budget amendment, a more drastic move which would require a constitutional amendment).

Some heavy hitters have joined the pro-line-item lineup:

US Speaker of the House Tom Foley (D) of Washington doesn't use the term "line item." He suggests "expedited rescission." Under this process the president would sign the appropriations bill but send along to the House a list of requests he wants deleted. If a majority in the House voted to keep an appropriation in, the request would not be sent along to the Senate. Cuts submitted by the president and approved by the House could be turned down when they got to the Senate.

Another Democrat, Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, has been against the line-item veto. Now he favors a two-year trial during which some money that would have gone to the pork barrel could be used to help reduce the deficit. Republicans have been more supportive of the line-item veto than Democrats, but a key Democrat, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia, is solidly against it.

This is one of those issues on which American citizens should be well informed - and have the final say.