Tuesday, October 23, 2007

That line-item veto stuff

It really doesn't matter that Ronald Reagan asked for the line-item veto. He wasn't right about everything -- or more precisely, even he probably couldn't have foreseen the rapid expansion in executive power and the gargantuan growth in the size of the federal government that has gone on in the 20 years since he left office. One would hope that if he were running today, he would have a rather different attitude.

The line-item veto came up recently in a debate spat between Giuliani and Romney -- Romney extolling the virtues of the line-item veto and criticizing Giuliani for taking it to the Supreme Court and getting it ruled unconstitutional when a Republican Congress tried to give it to Bill Clinton (spending in New York City got "line-itemed," so Giuliani's opposition wasn't just philosophical.)

At first, Giuliani defended himself by pointing out the unconstitutional nature of the line-item veto for Presidents. But he has since, according to George Will, said that he favors fixing this by proposing a Constitutional amendment for a line-item veto.

This is probably safe ground, since a line-item veto amendment would have the proverbial snowball's chance in hades to make its way in to the Constitution.

But George Will (a Romney supporter, it should be pointed out,) correctly castigates both Romney for pushing the issue and Giuliani for now going along with it. And he reminds conservatives who are supposed to be defending the Constitution why we should oppose this idea.

He makes his case on practical, textual, and philosophical grounds -- and does a convincing job. Here's how he ends:

Sixty-one percent of the federal budget goes to entitlements and to interest payments on government borrowing, neither of which can be vetoed. Another 21 percent goes to defense and homeland security. Realistically, the line item veto probably would be pertinent to less than 20 percent of the budget.

After a century of the growth of presidential power, and after eight years of especially aggressive assertions of presidential prerogatives, it would be unseemly to intensify this tendency with a line item veto.

Conservatives used to be the designated worriers about the evolution of the presidency into the engine of grandiose government. They should visit the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives building on Constitution Avenue. There the Constitution is displayed under four large glass plates.

Almost half of the glass is required to cover just Article One. That concerns the legislative branch, which is the government's "first branch" for a reason.

A polite assessment of Romney's - and Giuliani's - enthusiasm for a line item veto would resemble a 19th-century scholar's assessment of a rival's translation of Plato:

"The best translation of a Greek philosopher which has ever been executed by a person who understood neither philosophy nor Greek."

No comments: