Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column

August 18, 1997

Line-Item Veto violates separation of powers, threatens America's constitutional form of government
By US Representative Ron Paul

While Congress is not in session for the month of August, important business does continue in Washington. Even though I'm in Texas for the month, I am intrigued by an historic event of the past week: Bill Clinton became the first US President to wield the line-item veto -- a power which I believe is a major stain on the legacy of the so-called conservative revolution of the 104th Congress, two years ago.

The Constitution makes it very clear how the legislative process is to work if we are following the law of the land. Of course, the Constitution is the law of the land, or at least it is supposed to be. According to Article 1, Section 7, of the Constitution, "All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives... every bill which shall have passed the House of Representative[s] and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President... if he approve[s], he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections..."

According to the Constitution, the president must review legislation brought to him as an all-or-nothing deal. He is not free to create or change legislation passed through the two Houses of Congress. Under the Constitution, if the president doesn't like a portion of legislation, he may freely veto the entire measure and then work to convince Members of Congress to remove or change the portion he finds objectionable. This is completely constitutional.

But under the Constitution-circumventing power given the executive branch by Congress two years ago, a president can (at least according to legislative edict) strike single lines or portions of legislation and set the revised law into effect without the consent of Congress. If two-thirds of Congress does not object -- and it is almost impossible to imagine finding two-thirds of the Congressional members who agree on anything of substance -- the president's version of the law stands. This line-item veto process is the kind of absolute power our founders sought to escape, not embrace.

The direction this newly-created power takes us is 180-degrees off course; it is completely misguided and only further undermines the Constitution. The line-item veto consolidates too much power in the hands of the President, giving him excessive legislative power. The Constitution makes it clear that the president is only allowed to approve or disapprove entire pieces of legislation. The line-item veto opens the door for a president to do much more.

The line-item veto gives the president a whole new way to pressure members of congress and senators. It gives the president the opportunity to lobby for his particular piece of legislation with the threat that if the member does not vote for what he wants, the president will line-item veto something important to that member.

On April 15 of this year, I addressed the House of Representatives to oppose the line-item veto. As I told my colleagues, I was pleased to have been able to serve in Congress for four terms in the '70s and early 80s. During that time I was lobbied on a few occasions by presidents regarded as much more conservative than the current holder of that office.

The only time either of these presidents ever called me was when asking me to vote for more spending or taxation. Never have I experienced or heard of a president actually calling Congressmen and asking them to vote for less spending or less taxation. So I see the line-item veto as something a president can actually use to enhance or increase spending, not to reduce spending. Increasing spending and taxation was not, the stated intent behind passing the law in the first place, in fact, it was the opposite.

Fortunately for our nation, I do not expect this issue to simply fade into the arsenal of power held by the president. One court challenge has only recently ended, with the people who brought the suit being told they had no case simply because the line-item veto had not yet be used, so no one had been injured and in need of judicial redress. The Constitution requires that an actual case or controversy exist prior to judicial consideration. This constitutional requirement will, however, be met and I will be quite surprised if those negatively affected by the president's use of the line item veto do not challenge the process as unconstitutional.

Sadly, though, regardless of what the courts end up saying, the mere granting of this power has shaken our constitutional heritage of separated powers. The separation of powers in our nation is the hallmark of our form of government, and one attempt by the founders to safeguard individual liberty. The Constitution, and the arrangement of power in federal government, was designed deliberately and specifically and we must respect it, or risk jeopardizing the very foundations of our nation.

Congress acted improperly during the 104th Congress when giving this power to the presidency. Under the Constitution, it is Congress which has the responsibility to craft legislation, not this president, not a Republican president, not any president. Like the creation of administrative agencies, it is a means by which members of Congress have chosen to evade their responsibility as lawmakers and created scapegoats for the seemingly never-ending growth of liberty-oppressive government.

Ron Paul represents the 14th District of Texas. His office may be contacted at 203 Cannon, Washington, DC 20515.