Paul Jacob

For a while there the presidential race seemed pleasantly nostalgic. We read about where the Kerry bus stopped, where Bush spoke, which towns the two almost met in. You felt like breaking out the apple pie and singing a few patriotic anthems.

Then came the attacks upon past alleged heroisms and prevarications, and things got ugly. But hidden between the fluff and the tough scruff, one can actually find issues. Policy proposals. Ideas, even.

John Kerry, for instance, has called for resurrecting an old notion. "I'm going to resubmit a line-item veto structure that will pass constitutional muster," he said, "and get the waste and the pork and the special interest deals out of the system. . . ." After the line-item veto was passed in 1996, and after only a year in the hands of a willing president, the Supreme Court struck it down. Kerry suggests that a tricky procedural ploy will get around the Court's objection.

Earlier this year our sitting president, George W. Bush, also advocated the idea. But unlike Kerry, President Bush is not a lawmaker (well, not exactly); his policy proposals have to be taken up by someone in Congress to get the ball rolling. Kerry is a senator, and if he really thought enough of his version of the line-item veto, he could have started the ball rolling long ago.

So why hasn't he?

Is it a result of narrow partisanship? Though the 1996 Republican Congress gave a Democratic president the power of a line-item veto, could it be that this Democratic senator doesn't want his Republican president to have the power he wishes only for himself?

Only Kerry knows.

But let's give Kerry the benefit of the doubt: perhaps he realizes how hopeless a line-item veto would be in 2004's Republican-run Congresss. Those in power don't want their perks (and pork) taken away. And if ever there was a Congress run on venality and logrolling, today's Congress is it. Pork is king, and spending precisely what John Kerry says it is: out of control.

Why and Why Not

A line-item veto would rein in Congress's proven disregard for fiscal sanity. In the single year in which Bill Clinton exercised the line-item veto, he used this veto power 82 times, for a $2 billion savings. Had he been able to continue to use it, who knows how much of a deterrent to congressional extravagance it might have played?

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.