Slicing the pork–and the constitution

Dueling healthcare accusations flare testily over CSPAN. At the heart of the Republican objections lie charges of deficit-busting spending and creeping socialism. Here, Bill Posey argues that if the American people wanted a European system, they would “never have left Europe.” There, Mike Rogers denounces “sleazy” sweetheart deals and claims that costs will spiral out of control. Devin Nunes tosses out accusations of totalitarianism and socialism like beads at Mardi Gras.

Over and over, conservative members indicated that while they did support healthcare  reform, the current bill contained too many earmarks, such as the quaintly named “Lousiana Purchase” and the “Cornhusker Kickback.” Well. One looks in vain for the Platonic ideal, the earmark-free bill. Our system just doesn’t work that way, no matter which party controls Washington.

Recently, strange bedfellows Russ Feingold and Paul Ryan dredged up the line-item veto once more, arguing that it would curtail budgetary abuses. President Obama salivates at the prospect. Of course, the Supreme Court struck down the constitutionality of the procedure in 1998, which means that it would require a constitutional amendment to ressurect the line-item veto.

On its face, such an amendment sounds attractive. After all, it would allow the executive to remove boondoggles such as the Bridge to Nowhere and wooden arrows and keep the more attractive parts of a bill. The practice would compel members of both chambers to vote up or down on the substance of the legislation rather cut quid pro quo deals. Multi-thousand-page bills might morph into lean, readable documents.

Nevertheless, such an amendment would place far too much power in the hands of the president. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”

Further, it would erode the separation of powers to such an extent as to render the legislature virtually obsolete. The president could target not only earmarks but substantive elements of the legislation as well. The president, not the congress, could control the budget. The president could punish the minority party mercilessly. Further, Richard Kogan suggests that the line-item veto might even increase pork barrel spending because members might pad presidential priorities.

So, as messy, oily, dirty, slimy as the process might be, pack up the line-item veto and pass the pork: 219-212 .

Nice work, Nancy!

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~ by Moldorf on March 22, 2010.

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