In a Hoover Institution weekly essay, “A Bow to Fiscal Conservatism,” which was also published in the New Republic and the Weekly Standard, and recently appeared on the inside back cover of Reason magazine, Whalen notes that “Congress this past year approved more than 10,600 u2018pork’ items totaling nearly $23 billion — a 13 percent increase over the previous year — at a time when the federal deficit surpassed $422 billion and the national debt topped $7.5 trillion.” His solution: restoring the presidential line item veto. Although Whalen admits that it probably won’t reverse “the rising deficit tide,” he claims that “it would send a positive message to a cynical public: if Washington can’t halt runaway spending, at least it is willing to hand over the reins to the president and let him try to slow down the horses.”
Are conservatives naïve or just plain stupid?
The Line Item Veto Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-130) was enacted in April 1996 and became effective on January 1, 1997. It authorized the President “to cancel in whole any dollar amount of discretionary budget authority, any item of new direct spending, or any limited tax benefit signed into law, if the President: (1) determines that such cancellation will reduce the Federal budget deficit and will not impair essential Government functions or harm the national interest; and (2) notifies the Congress of any such cancellation within five calendar days after enactment of the law providing such amount, item, or benefit.” The items canceled by the president never become effective unless Congress reverses the president’s action by enacting a “disapproval bill.” The Line Item Veto Act also contained provisions for: “(1) expedited review by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia of an action brought by a Member of Congress or an adversely affected individual on the ground that any provision of this Act violates the Constitution; (2) review of an order of such Court by appeal directly to the Supreme Court; and (3) expedited disposition of such matter by the Supreme Court.”
On April 9, 1996, the very day the Line Item Veto Act was signed into law, The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), its president, and two of its members brought suit against the United States in federal district court asking the court to declare the Act unconstitutional because it violated the separation of powers (Constitution, art. I, sec. 7 & 8), the Appropriations Clause (Constitution, art. I, sec. 9, cl. 7), and the grant to each House of Congress of the power to “determine the Rules of its Proceedings” (Constitution, art. I, sec. 5). The case was dismissed by a federal judge on July 3, 1996, because the union’s claims were “too speculative and remote” to constitute an “injury sufficient to confer standing on the plaintiffs.” The case was appealed, and on December 13, 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court, holding that “not only is this controversy unfit for decision by this court at this time, it may never be ripe for us to decide. Therefore, deciding the controversy would be at best a waste of judicial resources, and at worst a usurpation. Either way, ripeness considerations dictate that we affirm the district court’s dismissal of the action.”
On January 2, 1997, the day after the Line Item Veto Act took effect, six members of Congress who had voted against the Act brought suit in federal district court challenging its constitutionality. On April 10, 1997, the district court declared that the Act was indeed unconstitutional. The case then went to the Supreme Court (Raines v. Byrd), which determined that “these individual members of Congress do not have a sufficient u2018personal stake’ in this dispute and have not alleged a sufficiently concrete injury to have established Article III standing. The judgment of the District Court is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction.”
The line-item veto was finally put to death by the Supreme Court in the case of Clinton v. City of New York (1998). After President Clinton canceled one provision in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-33) and two provisions in the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-34), two lawsuits were filed in federal district court. The plaintiffs in the first case were the city of New York, two hospital associations, one hospital, and two unions representing health care employees. The plaintiffs in the second case were an Idaho potato growers farmers’ cooperative and an individual farmer who is a member and officer of the cooperative. The district court consolidated the two cases, determined that at least one of the plaintiffs in each case had standing under Article III of the Constitution, and ruled that the Line Item Veto Act’s cancellation procedures violate the Presentment Clause of the Constitution. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court.
Conservatives who think for a minute that if President Bush were given a line item veto then he would suddenly turn into a fiscal conservative and rein in Congressional spending are naïve or just plain stupid. As I pointed out soon after Bush’s inauguration in 2005 in my article “Those Bush Vetoes,” the president did not veto a single bill during his first term in office. The last president who did not veto any bills was James Garfield (1831—1881). He had an excuse, however, since he was assassinated during his first year in office. So my indictment of Bush still stands: “Bush shares responsibility with the spendthrift Congresses that have for the past four years squandered not millions, not billions, but trillions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money.”
But, it might be argued, Bush realized that most of the spending bills he signed into law were full of pork, but he had no choice — because so many important things were in these bills, it was imperative that the bills pass even though they also contained pork. The truth, however, as Congressman Ron Paul recently pointed out, is that most of the spending bills sent by Congress to the president are mostly pork with just a few important things in them.
The greatest proof that President Bush does not have a fiscally conservative bone in his body, and that giving him a line item veto would not rein in government spending one iota, is not what Bush does with what Congress sends him but what Bush himself sends to the Congress.
According to the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, the president must annually submit a budget to Congress by the first Monday in February. On February 7 of this year, Bush submitted his FY 2006 budget to Congress. In The Budget Message of the President, there is a lot of fiscally conservative rhetoric:
- In order to sustain our economic expansion, we must continue pro-growth policies and enforce even greater spending restraint across the Federal Government. By holding Federal programs to a firm test of accountability and focusing our resources on top priorities, we are taking the steps necessary to achieve our deficit reduction goals.
- My Administration is pressing for reforms so that every program will achieve its intended results. And where circumstances warrant, the 2006 Budget recommends significant spending reductions or outright elimination of programs that are falling short.
- This Budget builds on the spending restraint we have achieved, and will improve the process by which the Congress and the Administration work together to produce a budget that remains within sensible spending limits.
But a look at the budget itself shows that this fiscally conservative rhetoric is nothing but a pack of lies. Here are the official government figures from Table S—1 “Budget Totals,” of the FY 2006 budget:
The dollar amounts are in billions. This means that Bush is proposing that the federal government spend $2.568 trillion in fiscal year 2006 (which begins on October 1, 2005). It also means that the federal budget is projected to grow to over $3 trillion in FY 2010.
But as the government admits, these projected budget figures are too low. According to “The Nation’s Fiscal Outlook,” issued by the Office of Management and Budget, “The Budget does not reflect the effect of undetermined but anticipated supplemental requests for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan beyond 2005.” We can thus be sure that Bush’s $2.568 trillion budget will grow by untold billions of dollars more.
The government is also acknowledging that it intends to spend more than it will collect in revenue. This is what gives us the budget deficit. For FY 2006, the government is expecting a deficit of $390 billion. Here is a historical perspective of the budget deficit:
The deficits give us the federal debt. In Table S—14 of the FY 2006 budget, “Federal Government Financing and Debt,” is the acknowledgment that the federal debt is expected to be $8,708 trillion at the end of FY 2006 and balloon to $11,137 trillion at the end of FY 2010. Here is a historical perspective of the federal debt:
So again I ask: Are conservatives naïve or just plain stupid? How could anyone possibly think that giving Bush a line item veto would somehow rein in government spending? Conservatives need to wake up and look in the mirror. The problem is not the Democrats or the liberal news media. The sad fact is that conservatives have no problem with trillion-dollar budgets as long as they are in charge of the government just like they have no problem with war as long it is their war. The fact that conservatives would have crucified Clinton if it was his trillion-dollar budget and his war shows that they are hypocrites without a shred of integrity.