No More Pork-Laden Stimulus Bills, Please

Nothing cries out more for giving the president a line item veto for federal spending than the 880-page coronavirus stimulus bill that Speaker Pelosi put together from her Socialist Wish List filing cabinet and pasted into her stimulus bill.  Rep James Clyburn (D-SC) had already signaled the plan was to load the Democrat agenda into the bill. Ultimately the taxpayer was saddled with the costs of  many  programs completely unrelated to managing the crisis.

Did the Speaker expect to get the entire progressive agenda which included legitimizing voter fraud? No, she sent up a lot of throwaways, but the pattern has always been to force acceptance of some of the agenda each time there is a crisis, attaching as much as possible to each “must pass” bill. Each side then proclaims how much they surrendered by giving up their throwaways. Because the pork is buried in massive bills, the assumption is no one will read it before passage. With each crisis, the country is then moved incrementally to the left and national debt increases by unnecessary amounts.

The effect is that each bill ends up carrying pork from both parties which trade off their pet projects behind closed doors, most often supporting key members’ re-election. These practices (as both parties are guilty) delay passage of urgent legislation and hand the taxpayer many billions of unjustified spending and/or debt with little or no accountability.

In 1996 a Republican Senate and a Republican House gave newly re-elected Bill Clinton a line item veto which was immediately challenged by the “King of Pork” Robert Byrd (D-WV). After a first attempt to overturn the legislation was rejected by the courts for lack of standing, New York City challenged this after Clinton exercised it. SCOTUS declared the legislation unconstitutional on a 6-3 vote. Clinton had exercised this limited veto 86 times before SCOTUS declared it unconstitutional on fairly narrow grounds of separation of power.

Again in 2006 under George Bush an attempt was made to pass a weaker version. This, too, fell by the wayside and we are now saddled with the president having to veto an entire spending bill in order to rein in the budget. Rather than fighting it out in Congress, successive administrations have signed onto this scenario while our national debt has risen exponentially. The administration merely shrugs and tells us it was necessary.

It would appear the American people are fed up being saddled with pork and with unnpopular or controversial insertions.  These insertions mostly are to finance political projects that could not gain support legislatively. If either party has any interest in reining in the runaway federal budget, then it is time to reintroduce and to campaign for a new line item veto crafted to meetthe standard of  constitutionality by a Supreme Court that has changed substantially since 1996. Justices Stevens, Sutter, Kennedy, Scalia, O'Conner and Rehnquist are gone and Justice Breyer felt the 1996 legislation was constitutional at the time.

New legislation would be crafted to allow the president to cross out items of a budget of which he or she disapproves. The redacted core budget would then proceed to law allowing the administration to move forward. Items removed would then automatically return to Congress for a second consideration. These articles too would become law if passed by half of the House plus one and sixty percent of the Senate, voting on each individually within ninety days.  Many projects would never be brought up again under the light of day, for they would be widely unpopular..

This is not really a full veto but a pathway for mandatory reconsideration in full public view. Because the requirements for reinstatement are the same as the the original budget adoption, Congress would still be in control of spending as the Administration can only “delay” adoption  of certain items while proceeding with application of the remainder of the budget.

Pet projects and pork will still be inserted by powerful Congressmen, but unless they have widespread support from colleagues, these items will die a quiet death when returned by the administration. Social media, talk radio and opinion programs will be quick to read the fine print and shine the public glare on that which does not belong.

All of this serves three functions. Critical legislation can then proceed while the pork is suspended for further review. Secondly, the spending for federal dollars can then be reined in, especially when we return to the system where budgets are set for each department and not rolled into omnibus bills. Finally this will remove some of the need for term limits, which we should have learned will leave the unelected civil servants in charge of the country without regard to party. We will still have congressional oligarchs, but their renderings will be forced into the public view where much of it will die to the taxpayer benefit.

1917 cartoon from The New York World

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