Published March 1995 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd A Line-Item Veto Charade
Many years ago, when the British explorer George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he replied, "Because it is there." In similar fashion, some members of the Senate appear committed to a strategy of despoiling the U.S. Constitution for no other apparent reason than because it is there.
Their latest charge is to enact a measure they claim gives the President line-item veto authority. Never mind that what they actually propose is not a line-item veto at all. Their strategy is to pass anything, in this case something called separate enrollment, and then pawn it off as line-item veto.
Their mutation works like this: Once the House and Senate pass an appropriations bill, every "item" in that bill would be stripped out and magically transformed into a separate bill. This means that, instead of sending the President one spending bill for, say, the Department of Defense, the Congress would actually send him more than a thousand little "billettes." The key problem here is that that process does not meet the requirements of the Constitution.
Article I, section 7, clause 2 of the Constitution requires that "Every Bill" must pass the House and Senate, and before "it" can become a law "it" must be presented to the President. Under a separate enrollment process, though, several thousand little "its" will be created from the original bill without ever having been passed by the House and Senate. And, to add insult to injury, the sponsors of this legislative sleight of hand even admit the procedure is unconstitutional.
The Congress does not need to trample on the Constitution to achieve the goal that line-item veto proponents are trying to achieve. Senator Daschle, the Democratic Leader, offered a substitute amendment to allow the President to excise any spending. If the Daschle proposal were enacted, all the President would have to do is send a message to Congress and the Congress would be forced to vote on his proposed spending cuts in an expedited manner. If the Congress agreed, the money would not be spent.
Unlike the convoluted and unconstitutional separate enrollment measure, the Daschle amendment was a workable proposal. Moreover, it would not have shifted the balance of powers from the Congress — the American people's directly elected representatives — to the Executive Branch and scores of faceless bureaucrats.
March 22, 1995