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Gore and Clinton
President Clinton wants to keep his line-item veto.
(AP File Photo)


Related Items
_ Line-Item Veto Tips Traditional Balance of Power (Washington Post, Oct. 24, 1997)

_ Background on a 1997 case (Supreme Court Report)


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High Court to Decide Legality Of Line-Item Veto

By Joan Biskupic
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 28, 1998; Page A02

The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide whether the president's line-item veto authority is constitutional. It put the case on a fast-track schedule that virtually guarantees a ruling by July on Congress's bold effort to give the president greater power to cut spending.

Since the law took effect in January 1997, President Clinton has canceled funding for 82 different projects in 11 different bills. Only once has Congress overridden a veto, on Wednesday, for 38 projects worth $287 million in a military construction bill.

The justices scheduled oral arguments in the case, Clinton v. New York City, for April 27.

A federal judge struck down the line-item veto two weeks ago. U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan said that allowing the president to cancel funds for individual programs within an appropriations bill violates the Constitution's requirement that the president sign or veto bills in toto.

Hogan said that because the Constitution dictates that both chambers of Congress vote and then send a bill in its entirety to the president for action, the president cannot "single-handedly review" the work of Congress.

The veto power was proposed in the House GOP's "Contract With America" and garnered great support among politicians who said the president should be able to slash wasteful spending by Congress. Hogan wrote, however, that the Constitution cannot be contorted because of Congress's inability "to control its voracious appetite for pork."

He ruled in a consolidated case brought by groups from New York and Idaho. New York City, two hospital associations and other organizations protested Clinton's move to strip funds that would have allowed New York City and state to give certain hospitals and health-care providers tax breaks tied to the Medicaid program.

The Snake River Potato Growers Inc. in Idaho objected to the president's veto of a capital-gains tax break for certain sales to farmer cooperatives. The Snake River cooperative was negotiating to buy a processing plant, but when the seller realized the veto would cause him to pay an increased tax, the deal collapsed.

The Supreme Court first reviewed the veto law last year, but ruled that the six members of Congress who brought the case lacked legal "standing" because they had not been sufficiently hurt by the law to challenge it. Hogan said in his decision that, unlike the members of Congress, the New York group and the potato growers have shown sufficient injury to bring the case.

But in the Clinton administration's recent appeal to the high court, the Justice Department continues to argue that the parties do not have standing. It says the groups are not "direct" but incidental beneficiaries of the appropriations bills.

Of the Snake River complaint, for example, the Justice Department said companies selling processing and refining facilities -- not the farmer cooperative -- would be the direct beneficiaries of the capital-gains tax deferral Clinton vetoed.

On the merits of case, Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman said the line-item veto flows from Congress's long-standing practice of giving the president discretion over spending. The administration has compared the line-item veto to the president's traditional authority not to spend money as dictated by appropriations bills.

Said Waxman: "The settled historical practices of Congress and the executive branch regarding spending discretion strongly support the political branches' shared judgment that the act is constitutional."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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