Too many times in the past few years, Americans have witnessed a government shutdown. Sometimes it’s a state government. Sometimes it’s the federal government. Whichever it is, a government shutdown affects a lot of people in many ways. Government workers lose a steady income which means some struggle to pay bills, pay the rent, and put food on the table. People also have to worry if they will receive backpay for missed time when the government reopens. In addition, government contractors may not get paid which could affect their employees with layoffs. And, what if employees do get laid off? Will they lose their healthcare? The list goes on and on. Overall, a government shutdown could affect millions of people.
Believe it or not, this does not have to happen. Some states have modernized to include a provision which will allow their governor to manage a passed budget/legislation. They have what is called “Line-Item Veto” power.
This provision allows a government leader (like a governor) to select an item(s) within a budget/legislation and veto only that item(s). The rest of the budget/legislation passes with the signing of the bill by the governor. If the legislature really wants the item that was vetoed, they usually can pass it again with a two-thirds majority. The important thing is a Line-Item Veto can often prevent any disruption of government services to people.
Unfortunately, when the Founding Fathers wrote the constitution, they were reluctant to give the President of the United States Line-Item Veto power. Of course, times have changed dramatically. The President now has access to nuclear codes to launch God knows how many nuclear missiles. Yet, the President is still not trusted enough to have a Line-Item Veto. Really, does that even make sense in today’s world? Government shutdowns disrupt people’s lives. So why can’t the President be able to veto “pork” (amendments added to a bill that do not make sense and or have nothing to do with the bill)?
Let’s examine how this works at the federal level. A member of the House of Representatives or the Senate proposes something their constituents want in their state or something a special interest group/lobbyist want, and other members of Congress agree to support the idea by attaching an amendment to a bill. It is a kind of, if you support my constituents/ideas, then in the future, we will support an amendment for your constituents. It would be like someone wanted a million dollars for a dog track or park or perhaps a bridge to nowhere. Yes, look it up. There actually is a bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Yes, it is unbelievable but that bridge in Alaska provided people with jobs for a while and most likely the funds for it were attached as an amendment to a bill. Governors’ in Forty-three states have some form of a line-item veto so why can’t the President of the United States have this as well? Only Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont do not have a Line-Item Veto. Just think of the money that could be saved if a President had a line-item-veto (Line Item Veto in the United States).
Case in point…in 1996, Bob Dole (R-Kansas) and John McCain (R-Arizona) led a bi-partisan group (members from both parties) in Congress to pass the “Line-Item Veto Act.” This law finally gave the President of the United States Line-Item Veto power. Within a year, it saved taxpayers an estimated two billion dollars. Unfortunately, groups, in conjunction with New York City, filed lawsuits claiming it was unconstitutional. The battle that ensued highlighted the pluses and minus of the President having a line-item-veto.
Those for the Line-Item-Veto argued,
- Taxpayers had saved over two billion dollars in a short time.
- Furthermore, the Line-Item Veto had the ability to curb the growing influence of both lobbyists and special-interest-groups in Washington D.C.
Those against the President having a line-item-veto argued,
- It could increase Presidential power which could cause corruption.
- A corrupt President could use it to punish members of congress for not supporting Presidential policy.
- It could actually increase the wrong kind of “pork.” What if a corrupt President used it exclusively to reward members of Congress for supporting Presidential policy, meaning the line-item veto would not be used on their amendments but would be used to strike down amendments (pork) from those Congressional members who did not support Presidential policy.
- It could be used by a President to reward states or punish states.
- It violates the separation of powers between the three branches of government (Longley).
In a six to three ruling, The United States Supreme Court, in 1998, ruled the Presidential line-item-veto power was unconstitutional. Reasons given included infringement on the legislatures responsibility to draft legislation, and it violated the Presentment Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 7, Clauses 2 & 3). The Presentment Clause spells out the procedures for a bill to become a law. Essentially, nowhere does it say in those clauses, that a President can pick or choose parts of legislation to sign or to reject (Gill).
Admittedly, the cons of a line-item veto probably outweigh the pluses. However, since the Line-Item Veto Act was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government has done little to control spending. The Federal Debt just keeps rising. Something has to be done if the federal government is going to maintain fiscal integrity.
A Call To Reform is a call to all Americans to help modernize the federal government. It is a call to find ways to make the federal government work better and more efficiently. And, if other states and countries can find ways to modernize their governments and control spending, then it can work in the United States as well.
Remember, one of the reasons the U.S. Constitution was established was “to promote the general welfare” of the United States which certainly includes the welfare of its people. One would think having a Line-Item-Veto would go a long way toward just that. So, if the United States Supreme Courts says the Line-Item Veto Act is unconstitutional, then Americans need to become innovative in preventing pork and preventing government shutdowns. Below are a few ideas for you to ponder.
1. If you believe the pluses outweigh the minuses…introduce an amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving the President Line-Item Veto power.
2. If you think that is not feasible, pass legislation to prohibit amendments from being attached to a bill that have nothing to do with the subject of the legislation. In other words, control the “pork.”
3. In addition, once you control the “pork,” accommodate requests from members of Congress for specific needs within their state by establishing a General States Fund. Provisions for such a fund would be decided, each year, by an approved amount of money in the annual budget. Once the total amount is decided, the amount available to each state would be based on the percentage of their state population to the whole population of the United States. Then, throughout the year, each state delegation can access their funds by voting as a state delegation (House of Representative members and Senators from each state). After all, most everyone does pay taxes so this would seem to be an appropriate use of tax dollars to help fund state projects that do not require huge amounts of money.
This is not to say the federal government should not participate in projects that benefit a state, like the Army Corp of Engineers building a dike to prevent flooding or an interstate highway. By all means, these types of projects are also with the scope of promoting the general welfare of people in the United States and should be undertaken by Congress. However, having a General States Fund would go a long way toward eliminating “pork” and recognizing specific needs of states.
Territories would not be eligible for these funds until they become a state.
4. A government website, free of charge and available to all citizens, should also be designed to show how each member of Congress voted on both legislation and removing funds for their state from a General States Fund. Total transparency must prevail if Americans are to become more involved with their government (Fish).
Government shutdowns can be avoided in the modern world if Americans will make a concerted effort to modernize the federal government. The ideas presented herein are just starting points. If people put their heads together (like a giant think tank), they will be able to come up with better ways to “promote the general welfare” of the United States concerning government shutdowns. It’s really not about politics. It’s about helping people, especially working people. And, if politicians do not want to do that, get out of politics!
These are our thoughts. What do you think? Get involved. Join the movement and help America modernize the federal government.
Fish, Stephen P. “A Call To Reform Sustaining America’s Unique Culture.” Stephen P. Fish 2020. Print.
Gill, Kathy, “Line Item Veto Definition. History of Line Item Veto Power and the Presidency.” ThoughtCo. Web. Updated March 18, 2017.
“Line-item veto in the United States.” Wikipedia. Web. Line-item veto in the United States – Wikipedia. December 27,2020.
Longley, Robert. “Line-Item Veto: Why The U.S. President Does Not Have This Power.” ThoughtCo. Web. August 26, 2020.