Supreme Court Promises To Rule On `Line-item Veto'

Justices To Take Up Issue In Special Sitting May 27

April 24, 1997|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court took on the role of constitutional umpire over the budget-cutting powers of Capitol Hill and the White House yesterday, promising a swift ruling on presidential power to cancel individual spending items ordered by Congress.

The court accepted the Clinton administration's plea to rule within a matter of weeks on the constitutionality of a new law, which allows the president to go line-by-line through budget bills and nullify spending allowances and tax breaks he does not want. President Clinton has yet to use the power.

Although this week the court had finished hearing cases for its current term, it agreed to hold a special sitting May 27 to consider the "line-item veto" law enacted by Congress last year.

That schedule all but guarantees a final ruling before the court's summer recess starts in June or July.

A federal judge in Washington struck down the line-item veto law two weeks ago, saying the law would transfer the ability to make spending decisions from the legislative branch of government to the executive branch -- a transfer not allowed by the Constitution.

The administration's appeal went directly to the Supreme Court.

Yesterday, the president praised the court for moving quickly, adding that he hoped the outcome "will clear up any confusion" about how the Constitution allocates budget-making roles between Congress and the presidency.

"The line-item veto provides a critical tool for the president to strike wasteful spending and tax items from legislation," Clinton said in a statement.

Until Congress passed the line-item veto, presidents had to approve or veto entire bills, taking or leaving all of them.

Congress was willing to grant the president new power in order to shift to him some of the politically unattractive task of saving money that Congress wanted to spend.

Any individual cancellation the president does within a spending bill must be able to help reduce the budget deficit. He may not shift a line of spending from one program to another.

Pub Date: 4/24/97

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