Clinton vetoes items in bill Line-item veto used for 2nd time

military loses 38 projects

$287 million spending cut

24 states are affected in move that angers some lawmakers

October 07, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Declaring that "the old rules have changed," President Clinton wielded yesterday the line-item veto to strike down 38 military projects that would have cost $287 million but were deemed unnecessary by the White House and the Pentagon.

"Government must continue to live within its means," Clinton told reporters in the Oval Office, as he prepared to sign the vetoes.

It was the second time Clinton has used the line-item veto power, which enables a president to discard individual tax and spending provisions from bills that previously had to be accepted or rejected in their entirety. The line-item authority, sought by presidents for decades, took effect in January.

Congressional champions of the ill-fated projects -- unaccustomed to the new White House weapon in budget politics -- reacted quickly and angrily to the still-unfamiliar exercise of presidential power.

"The line-item veto is no budget-cutting cure-all," complained Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, whose state lost a proposed $6.8 million expansion of Army National Guard buildings. "It is nothing more than a club for the White House to use to beat the members of Congress, and it stinks!"

Altogether, Clinton wiped out projects planned for 24 states, as varied as extending a runway on a Florida Air Force base to building a shop for maintaining Army vehicles in Kentucky. The items were part of a $9.2 billion military construction bill.

Among the larger proposals shelved were $19.9 million in wharf improvements at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, a $17.9 million pier upgrading at Florida's Mayport Naval Station and a $16 million railroad project at Fort Carson, Colo.

Appropriations for Maryland

Also among the proposed items vetoed was a $2.6 million hangar that was to be built at the St. Inigoes Naval Electronic Systems center in St. Mary's County. The hangar was to be used to house unmanned aerial vehicles, which are pilotless airplanes often used for reconnaissance, as part of the expansion of activities at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat whose district includes the naval electronic systems center, had backed the project as a member of the House military construction subcommittee.

Jerry Irvine, a spokesman for Hoyer, said the congressman would continue to push for the hangar but declined to say whether Hoyer would back an override of the presidential veto.

"The bottom line is whether the project moves forward," Irvine said, adding that the hangar could be "something included in next year's budget request."

Among the Maryland appropriations that survived the veto process are: $25 million for the National Security Agency to buy an office building in Linthicum; $9 million for a flight-testing chamber at Patuxent River; and nearly $8 million for new housing at Fort Meade.

In explaining which proposals got the ax, White House officials said they sought out those that were not in the president's budget request and those that had yet to be designed.

Administration officials said Clinton chose to spare projects -- such as housing and child-care centers -- that would enhance the quality of life on military bases.

'Rules have changed'

The line-item veto, Clinton said yesterday, "gives the president a vital new tool to ensure that our tax dollars are well-spent, to stand up for the national interest over narrow interests."

Using the veto, he declared, "makes clear the old rules have in fact changed."

Clinton previously employed the new power in August, when he struck down three minor provisions that passed Congress as part of the complex deal to balance the federal budget within five years.

The president won some support for his action. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a leading proponent of the line-item veto, called the list "fair and balanced."

"I believe this is an important first step in eliminating the wasteful spending in annual appropriations bills," he said.

More typically, however, lawmakers were deeply disappointed at the elimination of spending approved for their districts.

White House aides, who had braced for the backlash, maintained that Clinton's decisions had not been based on partisan politics.

Indeed, projects planned for Mississippi, the home state of Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, were unscathed.

Georgia, home to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, suffered only one hit -- a $6.8 million Air Force facility.

Contributing writer Eric Lekus provided information for this article.

Pub Date: 10/07/97

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