Line-Item Veto Is Unconstitutional

By Slade, David C. | The World and I, September 1998 | Go to article overview
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Line-Item Veto Is Unconstitutional

Slade, David C., The World and I

Even though the nation's treasury has been "plundered" to the point of national peril, and even though Congress has a complete "failure of political will" to stop its "persistent excessive spending," the Supreme Court nonetheless refused to allow "unconstitutional remedies" to be relied upon to fix the problem.

By a vote of 6-3 the Court held that the Line Item Veto Act's "cancellation provisions violate Article I, [sections] 7 of the Constitution," striking the law down as unconstitutional.

As discussed in the June issue of The World & I, Congress, being "unable to control its voracious appetite for `pork'" passed the Line Item Veto Act authorizing the president to "cancel" certain spending provisions and tax benefits, collectively known as line items.

To exercise this cancellation authority, the president submits, within five days after signing the funding bill, a "special message" to Congress identifying the line items that he wants canceled. If Congress wants to overturn his cancellation of the line items, it must pass a "disapproval bill," just like any other bill, and send it to the president. He can then either sign or veto the disapproval bill, just like any other bill.

Bill Clinton was the first president to act under this new authority when, in 1997, he canceled 78 line items. Two of these cancellations directly affected the city of New York and the Snake River Potato Growers, a group of about 30 potato growers in Idaho.

In section 4722(c) of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, Congress eliminated New York City's liability to return $955 million in Medicaid payments. President Clinton "canceled" section 4722(c), thus reinstating New York City's liability to repay this huge sum of money.

In section 968 of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, Congress allowed certain food refiners and processors to defer paying capital gains tax upon the sale of its stock. The Snake River Potato Growers qualified under this section for this tax break, but President Clinton "canceled" section 968.

Both the city of New York and the Snake giver Potato Growers sued in federal court, arguing that the Line Item Veto Act was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court agreed.

The Court looked closely at the "Presentment Clause" found in Article I, [sections] 7, of the U.S. Constitution. This clause provides that "[e]very Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes 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." The president's "return" of a bill, now commonly known as a veto, is subject to being overridden by a two-thirds vote in each House.

The Court held that "[t]here are important differences between the President's `return' of a bill pursuant to Article I, [sections] 7 and the exercise of the President's cancellation authority pursuant to the Line Item Veto Act.

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