Hill GOP accepts line-item veto deal President would get power to cut an item from a spending bill

March 15, 1996|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Republican leaders in Congress struck a deal yesterday on legislation that would give the president broad new power to remove individual items from a spending bill without rejecting the entire bill.

The deal paves the way for enactment of the legislation within two weeks.

Prodded by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the House and Senate resolved a yearlong stalemate over different versions of the "line-item veto" that were approved in each chamber last spring.

The version the negotiators endorsed gives the president sweeping powers.

Under the compromise, the president's veto of a single item in a bill would stand unless two-thirds of both the House and Senate voted to override it.

The veto power would apply equally to broad spending categories, such as military weapons, and to narrow "pork-barrel" items, such as a courthouse or veterans hospital for a particular congressional district. Tax breaks affecting 100 people or fewer would also be subject to the veto.

The veto could even be used against automatic spending programs, or entitlements, such as Medicare and welfare.

"This is a historic shift of authority away from the legislative branch to the executive branch," said Sen. Daniel R. Coats, the Indiana Republican who has been a leading advocate of the line-item veto.

He predicted that the new tool would be especially effective in ending lawmakers' time-honored tendency to hide spending for pet projects in broad, must-be-passed legislation.

President Clinton, who has asked for such authority as recently as in his State of the Union address this year, is considered certain to support the measure.

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota declined to comment on the proposal last night, however, saying he had not had time to review it.

Last year there was fierce opposition from some senior Democrats to yielding this much power to the executive branch. But their opposition was not sufficient to sustain a filibuster.

By acting now, the Republicans are addressing a key concern of voters around the country who complain that, for all its talk of budget-cutting, the Republican-led Congress has done little to reform its spending procedures, said Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has been a key advocate of the line-item veto.

The deal reached yesterday also represents an effort by the Republicans to regain their momentum by passing the elements in the House Republicans' "Contract with America," their 1994 campaign manifesto.

The line-item veto was a key part of the contract, but it has been in limbo since last spring.

"Wherever I have traveled around the country, I find people bring up this issue," Mr. McCain said.

It's no accident that a compromise should be reached as the presidential election campaign heats up. Mr. Dole, the Republicans' presumptive presidential nominee, and his GOP colleagues are eager to produce solid accomplishments after their drive to win a balanced budget agreement consumed nearly a year of effort with no success.

A flurry of measures on legal reform, regulatory reform, immigration, health care and crime are all expected to begin moving through the Congress within the next few weeks.

What's more, the line-item veto legislation had been delayed largely because of Republican reluctance to give the power to Mr. Clinton while budget negotiations over a seven-year balanced-budget bill were still under way.

But now, with lawmakers having given up on any long-term deficit-cutting plan, that concern has lessened considerably.

Instead, budget negotiations have dwindled to periodic skirmishes over short-term spending bills in which Mr. Clinton is inclined to spend more, not less, than the Republicans.

"Senator Dole said he wanted it done," Mr. McCain said in explaining the breakthrough in negotiations.

The negotiators left it up to Mr. Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich to decide when a vote on the legislation should take place and how soon the line-item veto would take effect.

A likely option would be to attach the line-item veto to a bill that would extend the government's authority to borrow money. This debt-limit bill must be enacted by March 29 to avoid a default.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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