George Will

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney is an intelligent man who sometimes seems eager to find bushel baskets under which to hide his light. Romney faults Rudy Giuliani for opposing the presidential line-item veto. But Giuliani doesn't, unfortunately. The facts -- not that they loom large in this skirmish -- are:

When in 1997 Bill Clinton used the line-item veto, with which Congress had just armed him, to cancel $200 million for New York state, Giuliani harried Clinton all the way to the Supreme Court. It agreed with Giuliani that the line-item veto was an unconstitutional violation of the "presentment" clause. Today, Giuliani says, in defense of what does not need defending (his defense of the Constitution), that he favors amending the Constitution to give presidents such a veto, thereby substantially augmenting what should not be further augmented -- presidential power.

In 1996, when a Republican-controlled Congress tried by statute to give Clinton and subsequent presidents a line-item veto, Pat Moynihan's intervention in the Senate debate began: "I rise in the serene confidence that this measure is constitutionally doomed." He was vindicated because the Constitution says "every bill" passed by Congress shall be "presented" to the president, who shall sign "it" or return "it" with his objections. The antecedent of the pronoun is the bill, not bits of it.

Forty-three governors have, and most presidents have coveted, the power to have something other than an all-or-nothing choice when presented with appropriations bills. This did not matter in 1789, when the only appropriations bill passed by the First Congress could have been typed double-space on a single sheet of paper. But 199 years later, President Ronald Reagan displayed a 43-pound, 3,296-page bill as an argument for a line-item veto. Today's gargantuan government, its 10 thumbs into everything, routinely generates elephantine appropriations bills.

But were a president empowered to cancel provisions of legislation, what he would be doing would be indistinguishable from legislating. He would be making, rather than executing, laws and the separation of powers would be violated.

Furthermore, when presidents truncated bills by removing items, they often would vitiate the will of Congress. Frequently, congressional majorities could not have been cobbled together for bills if they had not included some provisions that presidents later removed.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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