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What is a Line Item Veto?

A line item veto allows an executive officer, such as the U.S. President or the governor of a state, to veto specific lines in pieces of legislation that have been passed by their government's legislative branch.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2014
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A line item veto is the ability given to a governor or leader of a country to reject certain portions of a bill that comes before the leader to be signed into law. This power is widely used by most governors of states in the US, and it is one frequently requested by the President of the US (POTUS). Congress briefly granted line item veto powers to President Clinton in 1996, but the ability to reject parts of a bill was challenged by the courts and declared unconstitutional. Those opposing the line item veto claim it gives the president and the executive branch of the government too much power.

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The reason why the line item veto remains so important a topic of discussion is due to the predominantly two-party system in the US House and Senate. There are a few senators and representatives who are independent, or who are elected under another party affiliation, but most of them are either Democrats or Republicans. Since these two parties often represent opposite sides of the political spectrum, a near-even split of the two parties in either House can mean that certain bills could never get passed. In order to create easier passage of a bill, a lot of political wheeling and dealing may occur, with various senators or representatives adding on things to the bill that don’t really have much to do with it. A senator may agree to support a bill, particularly if it allows him or her special funding for pet projects, or creates other legislation that he or she does support.

If the POTUS were granted line item veto ability, much of this political “dealing” would fall by the wayside. The president could approve the original bill and veto any special deals made that resulted in a majority vote. Congress knows this full well, and knows that it would be much harder to garner support for a bill if concessions can’t be offered to the other political party. Other members of Congress might guarantee any requests for funding or other provisions of the bill, but there would be no guarantee from the president that he would approve these requests or provisions. In fact, the POTUS would likely not approve such requests, especially if they seemed out of step with his own political aims.

Giving line item veto status to the POTUS could result in very few bills ever being made into law, especially if either the House or the Senate has a nearly tied number of members or a majority of members from a single political party. For instance, if the House is 75% Republican and the Senate is 75% Democrat, it would be extremely difficult to get any bills passed that were in any way considered partisan. It should be noted that sometimes members of political parties almost unanimously support passage of a bill and do not vote along party lines.

On the other hand, there are 43 states in the US that give line item veto ability to their governors. Those supporting giving this power to the POTUS suggest that governors tend to not abuse their authority, and that bills still get enacted regularly in these states. Supporters further argue that this power prompts greater cooperation in state legislative bodies to create laws that will not be subject to partial vetoes. Those against giving this power to the POTUS counter argue that it is simply too much power for the executive branch of the government to hold, and it allows the president to act in an autocratic rather than a democratic fashion.

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Discuss this Article

anon306316
Post 3

@Suzy: Yes Clinton did have a budget surplus in his last term, but this was more due to the Republican takeover of congress and Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" agenda, which cut spending.

anon122562
Post 2

president bush never had that power. i wish he did.

anon19050
Post 1

The line-item veto bill was passed in 2006. Some argued that it had given President Bush unlimited power. I read somewhere when Bill Clinton was given this power of the line-item veto by Congress throughout 1997 and part of 1998 [before it was struck down by the Supreme Court] that according to the Congressional Budget Office, during that period Clinton canceled 82 spending and tax provisions that reduced the deficit by less than $600 million over five years. When Clinton left office there was a surplus. How has this power that was handed over to Bush come to have a different effect placing our country into high deficit and near bankruptcy? What went wrong? I'm baffled. --Suzy

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