With so many contentious aspects of the omnibus being highlighted in the news cycle, it’s easy to ignore the seemingly innocuous touting Trump has done in the aftermath of the legislation’s passage. Unfortunately, the president’s musings over enacting a presidential line item veto is not simply hot air, and while many presidents have called for one before, the proposal has never been as potentially detrimental to our democracy as it would be now.
With the proposal for a line item veto, departments (like the State Department) refusing to spend appropriated funds, and the president’s calls for an end to the senate filibuster, the President is attacking the very foundations of our nation. All spending by the government has been debated and much of it is a result of compromises by the elected senators and representatives. Under the president’s proposal, the playing field would be tilted hugely in favor of less spending.
Even without a presidential line item veto, Trump’s administration has already proven they will not spend money appropriated despite duly elected Congress Members approving the the funds and the President’s signature on said appropriations bills. For example, according to Forbes, before leaving his post Tillerson decided he was not going to spend the $120 million granted by Congress to investigate Russian interference in U.S. elections.
Almost 50 years ago, impoundment of funds occured frequently under Nixon, which led to a law requiring Congress to approve a request by the president to not spend previously allocated funds. With a Republican controlled Congress, nothing has been done as of yet to force Trump, or the State Department, to spend the money as intended. Thus, the President has already found a way to perform a line item veto in a roundabout way, so long as Congress does nothing to challenge him.
So what harm will legislating a presidential line item veto do? First, it will make it so, regardless of who holds the majority in Congress, the president can do as he wants despite legislating making its way through the channels. This kind of unchecked power over appropriations certainly won’t end there, and it would undermine the authority of legislators acting on their constituents’ behalves. Why would senators and representatives need to compromise and pass bipartisan legislation if the president would allow his agencies to do as they will anyway?
This would be the undoing of our representative government. Essentially, appointed government officials, responsible to no one but the Commander in Chief, will be able to ignore any congressional mandate not to their liking, but would of course have no power to spend any money that congress does not allocate. In this way, appropriations over the spending threshold requested by the president will be ignored. Given Trump requested less in financial services, agriculture, and defense spending than was actually allocated, expect to see those departments as well refusing to spend what they received via the omnibus.
A presidential line item veto goes against the separation of powers our federal system has been known to represent. Revolutionary at the time, our system of checks and balances has grown to be a central safeguard of democracy within our country. We should not allow Trump, or any other politician, to swindle us into believing elevating the powers of the already extremely powerful president improves our system of government. Instead, we should see this ploy for exactly what it is– another blatant attack on democracy.