Why The Line-Item Veto Won’t Work

This morning George Will makes an interesting argument against what has been a traditional part of the Republican agenda — the line-item veto:

The line-item veto expresses liberalism’s faith in top-down government and the watery Caesarism that has produced today’s inflated presidency. Liberalism assumes that executive branch experts, free from parochial constituencies, know, as Congress does not, what is good for the nation “as a whole.” This is contrary to the public philosophy of James Madison’s “extensive” republic with its many regions and myriad interests.

If [Mitt] Romney thinks a line-item veto would be a major force for federal frugality, he is mistaken. Gov. Reagan used his line-item veto to trim, on average, only about 2 percent from California’s budgets. And much larger proportions of state budgets than of the federal budget are susceptible to such vetoes. Sixty-one percent of the federal budget goes to entitlements and to interest payments on government borrowing, neither of which can be vetoed. An additional 21 percent goes to defense and homeland security. Realistically, the line-item veto probably would be pertinent to less than 20 percent of the budget.

In other words, even if the President did have a line-item veto and exercised in the most fiscally conservative manner possible, it would have a minimal impact on the federal budget and would do almost nothing to deal with the real source of out-of-control spending.

The more interesting part of Will’s argument, though, is his point that granting a line-item veto would upset the separation of powers between Congress and the President:

After a century of the growth of presidential power and after eight years of especially aggressive assertions of presidential prerogatives, it would be unseemly to intensify this tendency with a line-item veto. Conservatives used to be the designated worriers about the evolution of the presidency into the engine of grandiose government. They should visit the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives building on Constitution Avenue. There the Constitution is displayed under four large glass plates. Almost half of the glass is required to cover just Article One. That concerns the legislative branch, which is the government’s “first branch” for a reason.

Then again, Romney and Giuliani both seem to have graduated from the George W. Bush School of Government, where Article I is an inkblot.

  • Chepe Noyon

    Hmm, Will makes an excellent point. It adds weight to my growing suspicion that the central failure of our political system is the inability of Congress to address our problems forthrightly. I’m still mulling over the precise nature of the problem, but I’m sure it has something to do with the role of money in politics, and probably something to do with the increasing power of the national parties.

    At another blog I learned of an interesting concept for elections: approval voting. In this scheme, each voter can vote for as many candidates as he wishes; the winner is the candidate with the most votes. The result is that you aren’t forced to choose between the lesser of two evil extremes; the centrist candidate will always win. Now, we could argue that centrists aren’t desirable, but I think you’d agree that they’re a damn sight better than George W. Bush if you’re a liberal and Hillary Clinton if you’re a conservative. It might also put an end to negative campaigning. What’s the point of smearing another candidate if in the process you end up with some of the mud on yourself?

  • http://www.orderhotlunch.com Jeff Molby

    It adds weight to my growing suspicion that the central failure of our political system is the inability of Congress to address our problems forthrightly.

    It adds weight to my growing suspicion that the central failure of our political system is the inability of the public to realize that a national congress is inherently unable to address our problems forthrightly.

    I propose we pass the following amendment:

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people.