WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama on Monday is sending
legislation to Congress that would allow him to force lawmakers to
vote on cutting earmarks and wasteful programs from spending bills.
The legislation would award Obama and his successors the ability
to take two months or more to scrutinize spending bills that have
already been signed into law for pork barrel projects and other
dubious programs. He could then send Congress a package of spending
cuts for a mandatory up-or-down vote on whether to accept or reject
Senate Democrats filibustered the idea to death just three years
ago, and so Obama's move would seem like a long shot. But the plan
could pick up traction in the current anti-Washington political
environment in which lawmakers are desperate to demonstrate they
are tough on spending.
The White House move also comes as Obama's Democratic allies in
Congress are trying to pass a tax and spending bill providing $170
billion for programs such as unemployment benefits, aid to state
governments, and help for doctors facing a big cut in Medicare
reimbursements. The Senate is also taking up an almost $60 billion
war funding bill, and a vote looms on an administration-backed plan
to add $23 billion to help school districts avoid teacher layoffs.
Under the Constitution, the president has to either sign a bill
- forcing him to take the bad along with the good - or veto it,
which can be impractical. That allows Congress to pad spending
legislation with items a president does not like.
The White House says Obama would use the new power to try to
weed out earmarks such as water and sewer grants and road projects
not requested by the administration.
The new authority is far weaker than the line-item veto power a
GOP-dominated Congress gave President Clinton in 1996. Under that
bill, before it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1998,
Clinton's line-item vetoes automatically went into effect unless
overturned by a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate.
When Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., tried in 2007 to force a vote on
the weaker version, he won only 49 votes, far short of the 60
needed to break a filibuster led by Democrats such as Robert Byrd,
D-W.Va., who assailed it as an attack on Congress' power of the
All but a handful of state governors have the line-item veto,
which allows then to kill individual items in spending bills unless
they are overridden by state legislatures.
When Clinton used the line-item veto, he applied a light touch.
Even so, Congress recoiled and overrode many of his vetoes.
There is already a process under which Obama can ask Congress to
cut wasteful programs, but lawmakers are free to ignore the
request. Republicans have urged Obama to send the
Democratic-controlled Congress a package of such rescissions, but
he has opted not to do so.
The new spending cut proposal would apply to the $1
trillion-plus in Cabinet agency budgets passed by Congress each
year. Programs like farm subsidies and Medicare wouldn't be
threatened; neither would special interest tax breaks.