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You are on the Bridge to Nowhere Line Item Veto Act of 2006

Commentary
May 5, 2006By Chuck Sheketoff

Last fall, Congress funded the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, connecting an Alaska town of 8,000 with an island of fewer than 50 people with a bridge that was higher than the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge rightly symbolized the worst of federal pork barrel spending.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration and some in Congress are now trying to capitalize on the public’s outrage over both the Bridge to Nowhere and the country’s skyrocketing deficit by proposing a new presidential power – line item veto authority.

While it may sound innocuous, this proposal would give the president unprecedented control over the budget and would threaten programs that are critical to all Oregonians.

The proposed Line Item Veto Act of 2006 would empower the president to veto funding for almost any program or project.

Whether you are an Oregon farmer who relies upon farm supports or the extension service, a business that needs an educated and trained workforce, a worker who relies on good roads or public transportation to get to work, or a nurse working at an Oregon hospital that relies on Medicaid payments, the line item bill could affect you by allowing the president to treat all funding for public services as if it were pork like the Bridge to Nowhere.

Perhaps you’re skeptical that a president would cut such programs – not just bridges to nowhere. Then take a look at the president’s 2007 budget proposal and you’ll find cause for concern.

The Bush administration’s budget proposes eliminating funding for 42 education programs totaling $3.1 billion dollars – including funding that helps Oregon students afford college. It also recommends cutting Medicaid, veterans’ health care and Indian health services. And the president’s budget seeks to eliminate funding that helps working Americans feed their families, a cut that would affect 35,000 working Oregonians.

The list goes on, with cuts slated in food and nutrition services for nursing mothers, services for abused and neglected kids, Head Start programs, and employment and training services for Oregon workers. Funding for housing for the elderly and disabled, for energy conservation, for work to ensure the safety of Oregon’s drinking water, and to rural Oregon communities for roads and schools would also be on the President's line item veto chopping block.

Currently, Congress has authority over funding for such vital programs. The line-item veto bill would significantly alter that balance of power by permitting the president to strike or withhold congressionally approved funding for virtually any government program.

Moreover, while the president could pick and choose which programs to cut, Congress could not pick and choose which vetoed programs to restore. Under the legislation, lawmakers would have to vote up or down on vetoes as a package. This means the president could propose in the same package of vetoes the elimination of highly controversial pork-barrel projects as well as effective programs that enjoy broad support.

There is another fundamental problem with the legislation: It does not balance the veto authority over spending by giving the president authority to veto most tax cuts, even though tax cuts are often themselves egregious pork barrel spending that drives up the nation’s deficit.

More than half of our deficit is due to tax cuts approved since 2001, with the bulk of the benefits flowing to wealthy Americans. Consider the tax cut passed in early May, which will give the average middle-income taxpayer a $20 tax cut while millionaires receive an average break of more than $42,000. This tax cut, despite being fiscally irresponsible, would not be subject to the line item veto.

The Line Item Veto Act’s unequal treatment of spending and tax provisions will do nothing to restore fiscal discipline to our country’s budget. Instead of handing such unprecedented budget powers to the president, Congress instead must take on the difficult task of examining the need for both spending and taxes. The first Bush administration and the Clinton administration did this, which ultimately pulled the federal budget out of the red.

Today, of course, deficits are back. Putting critical programs on a budgetary Bridge to Nowhere will not solve the problem. It will only cause pain for many vulnerable people in Oregon and across the country.

Congress should scrap the Line Item Veto Act of 2006.