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Line-item veto in the United States

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Title: Line-item veto in the United States  
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Subject: Veto, United States constitutional law, Line-item veto, Andy Tobin, Constitution of Michigan
Collection: American Legal Terms, Legal History of the United States, United States Constitutional Law, United States Government Budgets, Veto
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Line-item veto in the United States

In United States government, the line-item veto, or partial veto, is the power of an executive authority to nullify or cancel specific provisions of a bill, usually a budget appropriations bill, without vetoing the entire legislative package. The line-item vetoes are usually subject to the possibility of legislative override as are traditional vetoes.


  • Governors 1
    • Wisconsin 1.1
  • Confederate States 2
  • Line-Item Veto Act of 1996 3
  • Subsequent developments 4
    • Line Item Veto Re-Enactment Activity of 2009 4.1
    • Debate 4.2
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Forty-three states—all except Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont—give their governors some form of line-item veto power.[1] The Mayor of Washington, D.C. also has this power.[2]


According to scholars, Wisconsin has used four types of extraordinary partial vetoes.[3] The first, the "digit veto", was first used by Governor Patrick Lucey in 1973. In appropriation for $25 million, he vetoed the digit 2, resulting in an appropriation of $5 million.[3] Just two years later, Lucey introduced the "editing veto". In this instance, the word "not" was removed in the phrase "not less than 50 percent", thus resulting in the opposite effect than desired by the legislature.[4] In 1983, an even more extreme version, the "pick-a-letter" or "Vanna White veto" was introduced. Governor Anthony Earl edited a 121-word, five-sentence paragraph down to a one-sentence, 22-word paragraph to change an appeals process from the courts to the Public Service Commission. The final version, the "reduction veto", was introduced in 1993 by Governor Tommy Thompson. This resulted in a legislatively-appropriated amount being reduced arbitrarily by the governor.[3] This unprecedented usage has resulted in eight lawsuits and numerous amendment proposals. In the first lawsuit, State ex. rel. Wisconsin Telephone Co. v. Henry, the Wisconsin Supreme Court granted absolute partial veto power to the Governor as long as a workable, complete law remained, stating the governor had "the right to pass independently on every separable piece of legislation in an appropriation bill."[5] The only judicial limitation was Risser v. Klauser, which prohibited the "reduction veto", stating that "the constitution prohibits a writein veto of monetary figures which are not appropriation amounts."[6] Earlier, in 1990, an amendment was passed outlawing the "Vanna White veto".[3] Yet, in 2011, Governor Scott Walker controversially crossed out 116 words in a pension-related section of the budget bill.[7]

Confederate States

Article 1, Section 7 of the Confederate States Constitution, adopted just before the start of the American civil war, would have granted the President of the Confederate States the ability to "approve any appropriation and disapprove any other appropriation in the same bill," with such disapprovals returned to the houses of congress for reconsideration and potentially for override.[8]

Line-Item Veto Act of 1996

Presidents of the United States have repeatedly asked the Congress to give them a line-item veto power. According to Louis Fisher in The Politics of Shared Power, Ronald Reagan said to Congress in his 1986 State of the Union address, "Tonight I ask you to give me what forty-three governors have: Give me a line-item veto this year. Give me the authority to veto waste, and I'll take the responsibility, I'll make the cuts, I'll take the heat." Bill Clinton echoed the request in his State of the Union address in 1995.[9] Congress attempted to grant this power to the president by the Line Item Veto Act of 1996 to control "pork barrel spending", but in 1998 the US Supreme Court ruled the act to be unconstitutional in a 6-3 decision in Clinton v. City of New York. The court found that exercise of the line-item veto is tantamount to a unilateral amendment or repeal of only parts of statutes authorizing federal spending, and therefore violated the Presentment Clause of the United States Constitution. As a result, it appears that a federal line-item veto will only be possible through amendment of the US Constitution. Prior to that ruling, President Clinton applied the line-item veto to the federal budget 82 times.[10][11]

Subsequent developments

Though the Supreme Court struck down the Line-Item Veto Act in 1998, President George W. Bush asked the Congress to enact legislation that would return the line-item veto power to the Executive Authority. First announcing his intent to seek such legislation in his January 31, 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush sent a legislative proposal Legislative Line-Item Veto Act of 2006 to the Congress on March 6, 2006, urging its prompt passage. Senator Bill Frist, Senator John McCain, and Republican Whip Senator Mitch McConnell jointly introduced this proposal. Representative Paul Ryan introduced his own version, the Legislative Line Item Veto Act of 2006, in March of that year.[12]

On that same day, Joshua Bolten, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, gave a press conference on the President’s line-item veto proposal. Bolten explained that the proposed Act would give the President the ability to single out “wasteful” spending and to put such spending on hold. While the spending line-item is on hold, the President can send legislation to Congress to withdraw the particular line-item. The proposal would then be considered in both houses within ten days on an up or down basis, and could be passed by a simple majority. Additionally, such proposals could not be filibustered.

When asked how this proposed legislation was different from the 1996 Line-Item Veto Act that the United States Supreme Court had declared illegal, Bolten said that whereas the former act granted unilateral authority to the Executive to disallow specific spending line items, the new proposal would seek Congressional approval of such line-item vetoes. Thus, for the President to successfully withdraw previously enacted spending, a simple majority of Congress is required to agree to specific legislation to that effect.

Though the current line-item veto proposal is much weaker than the 1996 version, it has nevertheless failed to find strong support in the Congress. Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, called it "an offensive slap at Congress," asserting that the legislation would enable the President to intimidate individual members of any Congress by targeting the projects of his political opponents. He also complained that the line-item veto as proposed would take away the Congress’s constitutional "power of the purse" and give it to the executive branch.

On June 8, 2006, Viet D. Dinh, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, and Nathan A. Sales, John M. Olin Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center, testified by written statement before the House Committee on the Budget on the constitutional issues in connection with the proposed legislation. Dinh and Sales argued that the Legislative Line Item Veto Act of 2006 satisfies the Constitution’s Bicameralism and Presentment Clause, and therefore avoids the constitutional issues raised in the 1996 Act struck down by the Supreme Court. They also stated that the proposed Act is consistent with the basic principle that grants the Congress broad discretion to establish procedures to govern its internal operations.

H.R. 4890, the Legislative Line-Item Veto Act, was approved by the House Budget Committee on June 14, 2006 by a vote of 24-9. It was approved in the full House on June 22. A similar version was included in the "Stop Over Spending Act of 2006",[13] authored by Senator Judd Gregg, in the Senate and approved by the Senate Budget Committee, but the full Senate failed to approve it, thereby preventing the Legislative Line-Item Veto Act from becoming law.

Line Item Veto Re-Enactment Activity of 2009

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced legislation of a limited version of the line-item veto. This bill would give the president the power to withdraw earmarks in new bills by sending the bill back to Congress minus the line-item vetoed earmark. Congress would then vote on the line-item vetoed bill with a majority vote under fast track rules to make any deadlines the bill had.[14][15][16]


Some scholars, such as Louis Fisher, believe the line-item veto would give presidents too much power over government spending compared with the power of the Congress.[17][18] Some argue that it could even give the President de facto legislative authority in altering the law which could violate the principles, and perhaps even the letter, of the Constitution.

Supporters of the line-item veto argue that the provision would make the President more accountable for federal spending. Also, the line-item veto can be used to prevent the enactment of controversial rider amendments that powerful legislators have sometimes inserted into important bills, or at least it can be used to ensure that someone elected at the national level is accountable for the enactment of such amendments. Without the line-item veto, Presidents have often felt compelled to sign controversial riders into law even if they did not support them. Bob Barr's former 2008 Libertarian Party running mate Wayne Root has also endorsed the line-item veto to go with his libertarian political views on spending while also suggesting the lifting of the Congressional ban on presidents impounding bills.

See also


  1. ^ "Gubernatorial Veto Authority with Respect to Major Budget Bill(s)". National Conference of State Legislatures. 
  2. ^ District of Columbia Home Rule Act (Pub.L. 93–198, 87 Stat. 777, enacted December 24, 1973)
  3. ^ a b c d Radatz, Clark G. (January 2004). The Partial Veto in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. Retrieved November 14, 2012. 
  4. ^  
  5. ^ State ex. rel. Wisconsin Telephone Co. v. Henry, 218 Wis. 302, 314-315 (Wis. 1935).
  6. ^ Risser v. Klauser, 207 Wis. 2d 176, 191 (Wis. 1997).
  7. ^ Rothschild, Matthew (July 6, 2011). "Gov. Walker Uses "Vanna White Veto" to Rob New Public Sector Workers". The Progressive. Retrieved November 14, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Constitution of the Confederate States; March 11, 1861". Avalon Project. 
  9. ^ "Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union". Transcript (The American Presidency Project). 1995-01-24. Retrieved 2013-10-04. 
  10. ^ "Supreme Court Strikes Down Line-Item Veto". CNN. June 25, 1998. Archived from the original on October 8, 2008. 
  11. ^ "History of Line Item Veto Notices". National Archives and Records Administration. 
  12. ^ H.R.4890; Legislative Line-Item Veto Act of 2006; Rep. Ryan, Paul [WI-1] (introduced 3/7/2006)
  13. ^ S.3521 Stop Over Spending Act of 2006
  14. ^ "Feingold, McCain, Ryan Introduce Line-item Veto to Curb Wasteful Spending". YouTube.  Video of reintroduction of Line Item Veto Bill March 4, 2009
  15. ^ "Feingold, McCain, Ryan Introduce Line-item Veto to Curb Wasteful Spending". United States Senate. March 4, 2009. Archived from the original on January 5, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs". The White House. February 25, 2009. 
  17. ^ Michael G. Locklar, Is the 1996 Line Item Veto Constitutional?, 34 Hous. L. Rev. 1161 (1997); Louis Fisher, State Techniques to Blunt the Governor's Item-Veto Power (1996) (CRS Report No. 96-996 GOV) (listing the tactics used in states “to counteract, blunt, or neutralize the governor's item-veto power”); Legislative Line-Item Veto Proposals: Hearing Before the Senate Comm. on the Budget, 103rd Cong. 60 (1994) (statement of Louis Fisher); Richard Briffault, The Item Veto in State Courts, 66 Temple L. Rev. 1171, 1181 (1993) (describing how legislative control over the definition of “item” has eroded the power of governors who have the line item veto); Louis Fisher & Neal Devins, How Successfully Can the States' Item Veto be Transferred to the President?, 75 Geo. L.J. 159 (1986).
  18. ^ Curry, James A.; Riley, Richard B.; Battistoni, Richard M.: Constitutional Government, Kendall Hunt, 2009, pg. 146

External links

  • Bush calls for line-item veto - THE WASHINGTON TIMES - March 7, 2006
  • Summary and text of Bush's proposal
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