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Line-item veto idea comes from Janesville, again

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
December 1, 2011

The Janesville line-item veto is back.


Readers might recall that two Janesville natives—Rep. Paul Ryan, R-1st District, and former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold—introduced a bill in 2009.


It went nowhere despite encouragement from President Barack Obama.


Readers might recall Ryan got a similar bill passed in the House in 2005, but it died in the Senate.


"We think it's an important step in changing the culture in Washington," Ryan said Wednesday, when he and co-author, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., reintroduced the measure.


The bill aims to eliminate pork-barrel spending that comes in the form of earmarks. Congress members will earmark a bill, adding unrelated spending measures that often are intended for pet projects in their districts.


Ryan's only opponent in the 2012 elections thinks a line-item veto is a bad idea.


"I don't think anybody disagrees with cutting unnecessary spending, but when you give this kind of power to the executive, it could be used to cut social programs down the line, too," said Democratic congressional hopeful Rob Zerban of Kenosha. Zerban sought to tie this bill to the Ryan-authored budget bill that eventually would transform Medicare to a premium-support system, or as Zerban says, would get rid of Medicare "as we know it."


Zerban said a future president could use the new power to cut Social Security or Medicare.


"What stops the next president from taking advantage of the middle class?" Zerban said.


Ryan told the Gazette the bill would work only on discretionary spending. It exempts spending on entitlement programs.


Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., have introduced companion legislation in the Senate, Ryan said.


Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee. Van Hollen is the committee's ranking Democrat. That virtually ensures the bill will make it to the House floor for debate, Ryan said.


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor reportedly supports the measure.


With Congress' approval ratings at historic lows, it may be no surprise that lawmakers would try to show they can work together to get things done.


"I thank my friend and colleague Chris Van Hollen for his partnership as policymakers work to earn back the trust of hardworking taxpayers," Ryan said in his statement on the bill.


Van Hollen likewise referred to Ryan as "my friend."


Asked whether this is a ploy to win public support, Ryan said that if that were the case, people should have accused him of the same thing when he introduced the measure years ago.


This is one of nine bills Ryan said he would introduce in an effort to restore credibility to a budget process he says is broken. Not all the measures will garner bipartisan support, he predicted.


Congress gave President Bill Clinton a line-item veto, but the Supreme Court struck it down in 1998, saying it violated the Constitution, which assigns control of spending to Congress.


Ryan's bill—like the earlier Ryan-Feingold measure—tries to sidestep the constitutional problem. It requires the president to tell Congress within 45 days of the enactment of an appropriations bill that he wants to cancel certain items of discretionary spending.


Congress must respond quickly with an automatic up-or-down vote on each item.


"Can't amend it, can't duck it, so we can't run away from it," Ryan said, and that public exposure could have a chilling effect on the introduction of wasteful spending.


Ryan said he and Van Hollen worked with the lawyer who argued against the Clinton line-item veto in the Supreme Court to ensure this bill would pass constitutional muster.


But Zerban suggested that constitutionality has not been tested in court.


The bill is called the Expedited Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act. It would require all savings be applied to the federal deficit. It should not be used to make room for more spending, Ryan said.


Ryan said he worked with White House officials on the bill and received words of encouragement.


Reducing the deficit is key for job creation, Ryan contends. He repeated his arguments that if deficits are not addressed, then job creation could suffer in an environment of higher interest rates and taxes.


"While I am not surprised these sorts of ideas would be proposed by Paul Ryan, I am deeply disappointed by some Democrats who have not shown the willingness to fight," Zerban said in a press release. "We cannot give in to pressure to downsize our middle class. That is not the way forward."


Feingold declined to comment Wednesday. In January 2010 he called the proposal "a perfect example of Democrats and Republicans working together in the best interests of the taxpayers."



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