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Line-item Veto

Abhijit Naik May 13, 2019
Despite being one of the most-debated concepts in the US political arena today, most of the people seem to have no idea about what the line-item veto is and how it comes into play.
A legislative bill that has been passed by both the Houses of the United States Congress, has to be approved by the President for it to become a law. When this bill is produced in front of the President, he has the right to raise objection and prohibit or reject the same.
Only a part of the bill is deemed undesired; the removal of which can solve the problem. While no such power rests in the hands of the US President as of today, the much-talked about the concept of line-item veto, which allows the President to disapprove the undesired part of a particular legislative bill, seems quite promising―on the paper at least.

What is a Line-item Veto?

Going by its technically sound definition, line-item veto is a provision which gives the President the power to strike off a part of the bill, instead of vetoing the entire bill. This power is quite popular at the state level in the United States, with the governors of several states using it for legislative enactments.
The Presidents of the United States though, have not been so lucky with most of them having to request for the same with no avail. In the United States, the line-item veto is mostly taken into consideration for budget appropriations bill. Even though it's a special power, it is as vulnerable to legislative override as a regular veto is.
Except for six states (Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont to be precise), all other states give their governors the power of line-item veto in some or the other form. Even the President of the Confederate States had a similar power using which he could disapprove any appropriation in the same bill.
The US Constitution though, has no such provisions for the President. There have been quite a few instances of the US Congress denying this power to the President. And when the Congress did give it to Bill Clinton in 1996, the US Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.
The list of US Presidents who have backed the concept is quite lengthy, and includes heavyweights like Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, etc. Bill Clinton did enjoy this power for a brief period when the Line-Item Veto Act of 1996 was passed by the US Congress.
Within a span of two years, it was challenged on legal basis and a US District Court stripped President Clinton of this power by ruling that unilateral amendment or repeal of only parts of statutes violated the Presentment Clause of the US Constitution on February 12, 1998. The ruling by the District Court was upheld by the US Supreme Court on June 25, 1998.

Pros and Cons

The critics of line-item veto allege that it would give the President more power over federal spending than what the Congress has. Those who are well-versed with the US Constitution also argue that it would give the President de facto legislative authority of altering the law; something which violates the principles laid down by the US Constitution.
On the other hand, those who support this power argue that it would make the President more accountable for federal expenditure. They further add that it would help the country do away with the controversial rider amendments that are passed by the legislators by inserting them in important bills.
It is obvious that the legislators who intend to pass controversial rider amendments by incorporating them in legislative bills will oppose the Line-Item Act, as it won't allow them to go ahead with their vested interests. This is exactly the reason why it is opposed despite being as vulnerable to override.
Those who oppose it also come up with arguments like nobody can guarantee the fact that the President will not abuse this power. In order to counter this argument, those in support of line-item veto give the example of 44 states, which have been using it for quite sometime now with no major issues whatsoever.
All in all, the debate surrounding this concept is here to stay. We can just hope that this stalemate situation ends sometime soon.