During the GOP debate the other night (which I, like most other Americans, did not watch), there was a spirited interchange between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney about the presidential line item veto.
For some quick history, ever since Ronald Reagan repeatedly called for it, conservatives have wanted the president to have the authority to veto individual provisions of bills passed by Congress, mainly to control runaway spending. Governors in 43 states have this authority and use it frequently to great effect.
The GOP controlled Congress finally succeeded in passing legislation granting the president such power, and Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1996. In 1997, Clinton vetoed a spending provision in a budget bill that would have sent a chunk of money to New York City. Giuliani, who was mayor of New York at the time, sued to get the funding restored under the premise that the line item veto was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that it was indeed unconstitutional.
During the debate (see transcript), Romney said that Giuliani’s suit was a mistake. Giuliani responded, “The line item veto was unconstitutional. I took Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court and beat Bill Clinton. It's unconstitutional. What the heck can you do about that, if you're a strict constructionist?”
When pressed on the issue, Romney said that the veto was “not properly structured,” but he argued that a statutory line item veto could be formulated that would pass constitutional muster. He said that President Bush put forward such a proposal last year.
Giuliani responded (in a rather saucy way) by saying that he was in favor of a legal line item veto. He continued that segment by saying, “And as the mayor of New York, if I had let President Clinton take $250 million away from the people of my city illegally and unconstitutionally, I wouldn't have been much of a mayor.” He then bragged that it wasn’t “a bad idea to have a Republican presidential candidate who actually has beat President Clinton at something.”
Today, the National Review Online has opposing articles by two respected law professors that are recognized for their prowess in constitutional matters. Douglas W. Kmiec of Pepperdine University takes Romney’s side of the argument in this article. (Disclosure: Kmiec is a Romney adviser.) Steven G. Calabresi of Northwestern University takes Giuliani’s side.
Both lawyers know their stuff and make persuasive arguments. Read both articles and decide for yourself who is right. I will merely make the following observations.
Romney essentially argues that Giuliani shouldn’t have challenged the line item veto law, although, he agrees that it was unconstitutional. He seems to lament that since the illusion of constitutionality has been dispelled, it is now necessary to find some other statutory way to accomplish the desired outcome. So, it’s OK to support an unconstitutional law if it achieves something you believe to be desirable? That kind of reasoning just doesn’t sit well with me. And why can’t we just bite the bullet and try to get a constitutional amendment approved if this is such a good and necessary thing?
But Giuliani’s argument that to be a good mayor he had to fight to have a quarter billion American taxpayer dollars funneled to his city is equally unimpressive. It always bothers me when people are free with other people’s money. But it bothers me even more when people selfishly feel entitled to other people’s money. This kind of thing has been a problem in our world at least since Cain.