Floor Statements

Mr. President, each Senator has personal priorities for this session of Congress--proposals that we have worked on between sessions of Congress and which we think are important for the betterment of our country. I am no exception. I have a set of proposals I will be advocating this year that range from armed services issues, to cleaning up hazardous waste sites, to expanding the fight against consumer fraud, to trying to promote economic growth, and ensure basic human needs on our Nation's Indian reservations.

We would all rather focus on our personal agendas, because we feel good when we get them passed. It is also easier and more fun than dealing effectively with the Federal budget deficit--which is without question our No. 1 national domestic problem.

Mr. President, today is the first day Senators may introduce bills in this Congress, and--because I believe we need to focus on the issues of deficit reduction and budget reform--my first bill on this first day is designed to help fight our first and foremost domestic problem--the deficit. The bill is a new, more effective, approach to providing the President with a line item veto over our spending bills. I am very pleased to be joined in this effort by my good friend, the minority leader who has agreed to include this bill as one of our priority legislative goals for this Congress. I am also pleased to be joined by Senators McConnell, Bond, Symms, Boschwitz, Kasten, Danforth, Wallop, Burns, Warner, Garn, and Lott.

I know this won't cure all our budget ills. But, until we act more responsibly, I can see no justification for not increasing the President's ability to stop spending taxpayer dollars on low priority or wasteful programs. I would like briefly to describe the `Spending Control Enhancement Act,' and explain its approach.

In essence, this measure would provide the President with a constitutional and viable line item veto. It would allow the President to rescind funding for programs he believes are wasteful. It gives him 10 days after enactment of an appropriations bill in which to make known to Congress which funds he intends to rescind, whether he intends to rescind part or all of the funds for a given program, and his justifications for doing so.

The bill would also give the Congress a specific format for response. If Congress wants to restore part or all of the funds the President proposes not to spend, Congress must adopt a resolution of disapproval for each rescission message within 10 days of receiving notice from the President. Congress could either adopt the President's package of cuts, disapprove the whole package, or vote to restore only part of the spending it had initially approved.

Congress would not be at liberty to add nongermane matter to the resolution of disapproval--it would be required to address only the spending issues raised by the President's message. If Congress did disagree with the President on his spending cuts, its resolution of disapproval would then be sent to the President for his consideration.

This process would provide the President and Congress with a second chance to purge the Federal budget of excessive spending. It would also force the Congress to negotiate more seriously with the President before passing appropriations bill. Now all we do is use the appropriations bills as vehicles to which to add pet projects--knowing that in many cases the President, faced with a `take it or leave it' omnibus spending package, must take it. The Spending Control Enhancement Act would end that imbalance and give the President the opportunity to weed out these unnecessary and inappropriate items from the appropriations bills.

As everyone in this Chamber knows, various proposals to provide the President with this kind of tool have been made repeatedly over our history, dating back at least to President Grant's day. Most of those proposals have focused on amending the Constitution, with a provision specifically giving the President power over the Federal budget. Such a provision was contained in the Confederacy's Constitution, an example followed by 43 States.

We need to be able to exercise this tool immediately, however, and the constitutional amendment approach has many drawbacks. It is complicated and very time consuming. Furthermore, a constitutional amendment is not amenable to fine tuning or adjustment if proven inadequate or wrongly written.

The alternative to a constitutional amendment is, of course, a statute. Statutory approaches have been proposed before too, but they have generally been unacceptable because their constitutionality has been suspect or because they included procedures that were too troubling to be acceptable.

Both Houses of Congress each, at least once, have attempted enacting a statutory line item veto. The House adopted a rather draconian measure in 1938 but it was dropped in conference.

The Senate debated a statutory line item veto in 1985 under the guidance of the former Senator from Georgia, Mr. Mattingly. His measure would have required the enrolling clerk to separate each section of an appropriations bill into a separate bill before being sent to the President for approval. The President could thus exercise a line item veto by vetoing any of these bills.

While its intent was good, the format of the measure had many problems. It was exceedingly cumbersome. It would not have given the President a precise means of cutting wasteful spending. It would not have allowed the President to reduce the level of funding for programs he felt Congress had funded too generously--he would be faced only with the choice of total rejection or total acceptance of the spending amount Congress provided for every item. Moreover, it contained no systematic mechanism for Congress to respond expediently and easily. Finally, it would have unduly politicized the Office of the Enrolling Clerk by conferring upon it unprecedented power to play with bills after Congress had acted on them.

Our proposal for a line item veto, on the other hand, would not further complicate the budget process nor raise concerns about unconstitutionality. Its stiff proscriptions and the time limit governing the resolution of disapproval will not encumber the Congress with yet another complex layer in the budget process, but would give Congress another opportunity to examine its decisions up close.

In fact, this line item veto is simply an expansion of the rescission authority the President already has, and it is based on a proposal advocated by the House of Representatives during consideration of the Budget Act reform in 1974. During this debate the House advocated requiring the Congress to act in order to overturn Presidential rescissions, but in compromising with the Senate during conference agreed that rescissions would only become effective if affirmed by Congress. Obviously the compromise didn't work, and we need to change it.

My proposal also does not involve transferring authority over spending decisions to the President nor does it mean that Congress is abdicating any of its rightful power of the purse. It is simply an added protection against wasteful spending during a time when appropriations bills are complex and multifold, and hardly free of unnecessary spending.
The President who exercises this second chance, `line item' veto will have cause to exercise it constructively instead of punitively or politically. If he does not, Congress can change or repeal it.
Another advantage of my proposal has is that it obviates the problem of limiting the President to addressing only line items, which is virtually useless in the face of lump sum appropriations bills. Under this proposal, the President could identify specific items for which he would like to reduce or cancel budget authority. In effect, this makes the Spending Control Enhancement Act a much more precise deficit reduction tool.
Finally, this proposal will place an additional restraint on congressional spending decisions because ultimately, it will discourage the provision of pork barrel projects in appropriations bills. Congress will be reluctant to overturn rescissions for wasteful programs and, at the same time, may be less inclined to fund them for fear that the President will identify them publicly.

The implementation of this measure alone will clearly not eliminate our budget woes, but it is a major, positive step in the right direction. It is also a good faith effort toward ensuring that the American taxpayers' money is wisely spent. We owe that to the taxpayers. We can not subject them again to headlines such as we saw a year ago in the wake of the continuing resolution we adopted in December of 1987. Those headlines listed myriad pork barrel projects ranging from $500,000 for a highway bypass in Michigan to $8.5 million for high-technology anticancer equipment in California to $350,000 to clean up Mount Rushmore. We were so embarassed by the media's disclosures of our own profligacy that we were compelled to rescind money for a school in France--a token action.

Mr. President, this idea is neither new nor radical. It is a simple and straightforward step in disciplining a dismally disjointed budget process, and one we should adopt as soon as we can.