WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court, pressed by President Clinton for a swift constitutional decision on his power to delete individual items from spending bills passed by Congress, is likely to rule before summer.
Under a procedure laid down by Congress when it created the "line-item veto" a year ago, the court must put the administration's appeal on a fast track, pushing it along to "the greatest possible extent."
The Clinton administration formally began an appeal yesterday to challenge Thursday's ruling by a federal judge that the line-item veto unconstitutionally transfers lawmaking power from Congress to the White House.
The Supreme Court said nothing about the dispute yesterday. But the new law and the current court schedule make it appear that the court has little choice but to hold a special hearing in May or early June. Before it recesses for the summer, the court almost always decides cases it has heard.
If the president's power is revived by the court, Clinton could begin using the power to cancel specific new spending items during the rest of this year's budget process. So far, Clinton has made no use of the power, which took effect Jan. 1.
The president told reporters yesterday that "the line-item veto is very important in helping to preserve the integrity of federal spending, and I hope very much we can sustain it."
Asked for his own constitutional assessment of the measure, Clinton replied, "We ought to give the Supreme Court a chance to have their say on it."
Mike McCurry, Clinton's press secretary, said administration lawyers are asking for a prompt hearing "so that the court could conceivably consider the issue during the current term" -- due to end in late June or early July.
"The president hopes that it [the appeal] will result in an expedited ruling that clears up any confusion," McCurry said.
It is unusual for the court to hold special sittings late in a term, although it did so last year to consider the constitutionality of part of a new law limiting death-row inmates' appeals to federal courts.
McCurry said the line-item veto was a tool that Clinton "fully intended to use to strike wasteful spending and tax items from legislation to protect the interests of American taxpayers."
"He believes the Congress took the right step" in creating the new power, the spokesman said.
McCurry told reporters that the constitutional battle over the line-item veto would not impede negotiations between the president and congressional leaders toward a plan to balance the federal budget.
Pub Date: 4/12/97