Friday, June 23, 2006

US House votes to give Bush new line-item veto

US House votes to give Bush new line-item veto
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives handed President George W. Bush a victory on Thursday when it approved a bill giving him more power to control federal spending that has risen dramatically since he took office.

By a vote of 247-172, the House backed giving the president modified line-item veto powers. Supporters hope the legislation will also address constitutional concerns that killed a tougher, 1990s version of the measure.

Under the revised line-item measure, which is also moving through the Senate, Bush could single out specific spending or tax measures in larger bills passed by Congress and ask lawmakers to delete them.

Bush urged the Senate to also pass the line-item veto legislation.

"Forty-three governors have a line-item veto, and we need similar authority at the federal level to control spending," Bush said in a statement.

The expanded authority would allow the "president to work with the Congress to reduce wasteful spending while preserving the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches," said Rep. Adam Putnam, a Florida Republican who is a senior member of the House Budget Committee.

But Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, said, "if Congress had any kind of backbone, we would do it (cut spending) ourselves."

The election-year bill is part of a broader attempt by Republicans, who control Congress and the White House, to show their concern over rapidly escalating federal spending they have presided over.

In 2001, when Bush took office, the federal government spent about $1.9 trillion. That figure has exploded to more than $2.7 trillion this year.

Besides fast-growing budgets for the military and domestic security, the government's tab for federally sponsored health care for the poor and elderly has been surging. At the same time, Bush has pushed steep tax cuts through Congress, many of which are aimed at the wealthy.

Earlier this year, in the midst of scandals related to lobbyists winning special-interest favors in spending bills, Bush asked Congress to give him line-item veto authority.

Some Democrats said Bush has never used the presidential veto authority he has, which allows him to reject entire bills passed by Congress.

Even backers of the new line-item veto acknowledged it might not be the remedy to budget deficits that have hit at least $300 billion annually since 2003 and $3 trillion in new government debt since 2002.

The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the measure could result in the president allowing special-interest "earmarks" to remain in bills passed by Congress while giving him a chance to kill items such as new benefits for low-income children or seniors. It also complained that in some circumstances, the president could place up to a 90-day hold on items Congress refuses to kill.

Tom Schatz, head of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, said, "with a line-item veto, the president can eliminate the worst excesses of Congress and help reduce overall spending."

(Additional reporting by Joanne Kenen)