Monday, September 15, 2008

Presidents Aren't Governors

I recently watched some talking heads discussing how Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has been able to do a better job of controlling wasteful spending at the state level than she and Senator John McCain can hope to accomplish if the latter is elected President. That's because she has (along with many other governors) a "Line Item Veto".

The Alaska Legislature has sent her spending bills, which she has returned with funding amounts scratched out, and reduced levels written in the margins. Her vetoes have then been sustained, making them law. Presidents don't have that power, and the conventional wisdom is that it would require a Constitutional amendment to allow a President to undo the log-rolling that routinely pollutes otherwise reasonable legislation.

I don't think it's necessary, or even advisable, to amend the Constitution in this particular respect. As distasteful as I may find some compromises made by Congress to get a bill passed, it could be dangerous to allow a deal to be forged, only to abrogate that deal by means of a selective veto of one part of the package. That would allow language to become law that wouldn't get a majority of each house without the balancing provision(s). Instead, I propose a mechanism, entirely within the current wording of the Constitution, that allows a President to exercise leadership in trimming the ornaments from "Christmas tree" bills.

Let's begin by examining how the Constitution describes the veto and override process (Art. I, Sec. 7, Par. 2):

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
Without changing a word of this, each house of Congress can, on its own initiative, pass an amendment to its own internal rules providing the following:
Whenever a Bill shall have been vetoed by the President of the United States, with his statement of objections thereto including one or more suggested amendments, and the vote in this house to override that veto fails to receive the requisite two-thirds, the question before this house shall be whether to approve the bill as amended thereby. Such question shall be debatable but not amendable.
If there are technical objections to this wording, I'm sure that Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid (or their successors) can assign the appropriate resources to work out better wording. Whatever the final form may take, this proposal gives the President a better shot at throwing out the bathwater of pork, while preserving the baby of genuinely good legislation.

Can we get sponsors in each chamber of Congress to champion this cause? Will Senators Obama and McCain agree to co-sponsor the rules change in the Senate before the election determines which gets to take advantage of it?
[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full post.]

Maybe we can make Washington more like Juneau.


  1. Good info, and food for thought. I expect it was tongue in cheek, but oh, if your optimistic suggestion to the candidates were acted upon, oh how amazing that would be...

  2. If I were Emperor, I would just disallow Riders in the first place.

    - You think your project is important and sensible enough?

    - The it ought to be important and sensible enough to survive on its own merits - so introduce your own bill.

    - MuscleDaddy


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