THE VETO FIGHT
APRIL 9, 1996
Kwame Holman reports on the history of the line-item veto. He looks at the bipartisan group that supported the bill and those who fought passage.
Click here to read the President's remarks at the signing ceremony.
KWAME HOLMAN: With the stroke of several pens, President Clinton has increased the power and authority of the executive branch over federal government spending decisions.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: This new law will give the President the power to cancel specific spending items and specific tax loopholes that benefit special interests. These proposals can then be debated and subject to an open vote on the floor of Congress. The fresh air of public accountability will glow through the federal budget. This law gives the President tools to cut wasteful spending and even more important, it empowers our citizens, for the exercise of this veto or even the possibility of its exercise will throw a spotlight of public scrutiny onto the darkest corners of the federal budget.
KWAME HOLMAN: Support for the line item veto built over the past decade, particularly among Republicans. Republican candidates for the House of Representatives made it a key element of their Contract with America before the 1994 election. Three years ago, Senate Republicans gave President Clinton a line item veto pen as a gift symbolizing their support for the measure. And during his eight years in office, President Ronald Reagan pleaded for it.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: (1984) As governor, I found this line item veto was a powerful tool against wasteful or extravagant spending. It works in 43 states. Let's put it to work in Washington for all the people. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, the last five Presidents have supported the line item veto.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: For years, Presidents of both parties have pounded this very desk in frustration at having to sign necessary legislation that contained special interest boondoggles, tax loopholes, and pure pork.
KWAME HOLMAN: But over the years, various version of the line item veto were cast aside by the Congress, due in no small part to the efforts of Robert Byrd, the Senate's resident scholar on the Constitution and the most ardent protector of the powers of the legislative branch. Byrd stood against the line item veto again last week.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD, (D) West Virginia: Its passage will effectuate a tremendous gift of power from the legislative branch to the executive branch, and it will be used as a club to be held over the head of every member of the United States Senate and every member of the House of Representatives by power hungry Presidents who will seek to impose their will over the legislative process to the detriment of the American people, whose elected representatives in Congress who no longer will be free to exercise their judgment as to what matters are in the best interest of the United States and the people whom they serve.
KWAME HOLMAN: It was Robert Byrd's last stand against the line item veto. Despite his objections to the measure, he decided not to prevent a vote on it. The line item veto passed the Senate 69 to 31. However, shortly after the line item veto was signed into law today, a federal employees union filed a lawsuit against it, the first of what's expected to be several legal challenges.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We anticipate that it will be challenged. We've worked hard to provide a means for it to be resolved quickly. But this leaves ultimate hands in the authority of the Congress. They can take all these separate issues back and vote on them separately. And I think all of us believe that as long as that is done, that we don't violate the constitutional separation of powers doctrine.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton will not have immediate use of the line item veto. He and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole agreed to push off its effective date until next January, thereby handing the new veto authority to whoever wins the November election.