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Senate Approves Line-Item Veto Legislation, 69 to 29

By Helen Dewar
The Washington Post

The Senate Thursday joined the House in approving line-item veto legislation that would vastly expand presidential powers to cut individual items of congressional spending.

While the House and Senate bills differ, key senators predicted that differences will be resolved and some form of line-item veto will be enacted, possibly in time for this year's round of spending bills.

The 69 to 29 vote to approve the politically popular measure put Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, R-Kan., and other Senate Republicans back on the winning track after losses that were earning the Senate a reputation as a "black hole" for GOP initiatives.

Hailed by Republicans as a blow to pork-barrel spending and denounced by many Democrats as an invitation to governmental chaos, the Senate bill would cause the president to sign or veto 10,000 or more individual spending bills every year, compared with the current 13.

The House bill - part of the GOP "Contract with America" - seeks the same goal of making it easier for the president to cull out unwanted spending and harder for Congress to block him from doing so.

But the bills differ significantly in how they would work, and some lawmakers said House-Senate agreement, while likely because of political pressure for curbs on spending excesses, could be difficult to achieve.

Like other chief executives before him, President Clinton supports a line-item veto, under which a president can strip appropriations bills of individual items of spending without vetoing the bills as a whole. Governors of 43 states have that power, but the Constitution denies it to presidents. All a president can do is propose to rescind spending after it is enacted, and Congress can ignore the proposal.

To get around the constitutional prohibition, the Senate bill would break each of Congress's 13 annual appropriations bills into hundreds if not thousands of separate "line-item" measures before the bills are sent to the White House. "Separate enrollment," as it is called, would also be required for narrowly targeted tax breaks and new or expanded entitlement programs. Each bill could be signed or vetoed, and it would take a two-thirds vote of both houses to override a veto, as it does with ordinary legislation. The Senate bill would lapse after five years unless reenacted.

The House takes a different route to the same end by putting a presidential proposal to rescind spending into effect unless Congress passes legislation to block it within 20 days. Because the president would almost certainly veto the legislation, a two-thirds vote would be required - as in the Senate bill - to block a president's spending cut.

Although Congress has been wrestling with the line-item veto issue since the 1870s, it took on its current momentum during the 1980s, when it was championed by President Ronald Reagan. When Republicans won control of Congress in last year's elections, it took on the aura of an irresistible force, whizzing through the House 294 to 134 early in the session.

But it ran into a log-jam in the Senate, where Republicans split between the House bill and a milder version that would have allowed Congress to block a recision by a majority vote of one house.

Stung by defeat of the balanced-budget constitutional amendment and an effort to overturn Clinton's order banning permanent replacement of strikers by a federal contractors, Republicans were faced with a humiliating third defeat in a row.

Dole swung into action, launching negotiations that produced the separate-enrollment alternative and rounding up virtually all Republicans behind it.

"Bob Dole had to have a victory; he could not lose another one," a sympathetic Republican said in reference to Dole's leadership role in the Senate and his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination