WASHINGTON -- Under pressure from the recent growth in spending and federal deficits, the House approved yesterday a measure that would give President Bush a line-item veto. Republicans said it would help him slash wasteful spending and delete expenditures for specific projects from bills.
Congressional Republicans have been facing demands from fiscal conservatives in their party to rein in federal spending, which has grown rapidly with the GOP controlling the White House and Congress.
With November's midterm congressional elections approaching, yesterday's vote appeared to be designed to reach out to disaffected fiscal conservatives who have been challenging Bush and the Republican leadership with increasing vigor.
Two weeks ago, Republicans failed in an attempt to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, an effort widely considered a gesture toward the party's religious and cultural conservatives.
Supporters of the line-item veto, which is designed to let the president reject individual items within the broader federal budget, said the measure, approved on a 247-172 vote, is a signal that Republicans are willing to take tough action to control spending. Most Republicans voted for the bill, as did some Democrats.
"This legislation is another example of the Republican-led Congress and our president pushing forward with fiscal discipline," Rep. Adam H. Putnam, a Florida Republican, told the House.
Last fiscal year, the federal deficit was $319 billion, a decrease from the record $412 billion in 2004. Still, federal spending has risen 45 percent in the 5 1/2 years since Bush became president, according to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Critics said the GOP has done little to hold down spending and that yesterday's vote was mainly intended to give lawmakers a chance to show constituents an accomplishment.
"It's a whole lot easier to enact process reform that promises to restrain spending in the future than it is to restrain spending," said Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan social and economic policy research group.
"Many from both parties are concerned about the deficits that we are running, and so without taking painful steps to cut spending or increase revenues, members can go to the voters and say they have done something to restrain deficits in the future."
Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who drafted the House bill, said the suggestion that the line-item veto is being used as a political tactic is "a stale reaction." He said the legislation is not a thinly veiled attempt to appear fiscally conservative.
Ryan said much unjustifiable waste slips through the legislative process and that the line-item veto would provide greater transparency.
The White House sent Congress its version of a line-item bill in March, but Ryan said he crafted his bill to ensure that such vetoes would be used only to cut unnecessary spending.
Those who spoke against the bill objected to ceding Congress' constitutional authority over legislation to the executive branch.
Marni Goldberg writes for the Chicago Tribune.