Merry Christmas, Sen. Byrd.
Unfortunately, Congress’s gain is the taxpayers’ loss. One year’s experience with the line item veto taught us all an important lesson: the line item veto works. In 1997 President Clinton used this new veto 82 times to delete unnecessary expenditures in 11 spending bills. The savings to taxpayers total nearly $2 billion over five years. True, in a $1.75 trillion annual budget, this is not a huge sum. But even by Washington standards, $2 billion is still real money — and a whole lot of pork.
None of these vetoed projects served the national interest. Clinton wielded the veto to eliminate funding for a $600,000 solar aquatic wastewater treatment demonstration project in Vermont; a $2 million Chena River dredging project in Fairbanks, Alaska, to benefit a single tour boat operator; a $1 million corporate welfare grant to the Carter County Montana Chamber of Commerce; $900,000 for a Veterans Administration cemetery the VA says it doesn’t need; $1.9 million for dredging a Mississippi lake that primarily serves yachts and pleasure boats; $500,000 for the Neabsco Creek Project in Virginia for removal of creek debris; and other such absurdities.
As the list below shows, pork is still being served in great quantities and large servings in Washington these days.
The tragedy of the Supreme Court’s decision is that the most recent spending bill enacted by Congress, the 1998 Highway Bill, is a monument to the need for a line item veto. This roads bill contains a record 1,500 pork projects. That’s 3 slabs of bacon for every congressional district. These “demonstration projects” include such necessities as bike paths, hiking trails, auto museums, parking garages and wasteful mass transit projects. More than $5 billion could have been saved on this bill alone with the line item veto.
The American public has long favored the line item veto precisely to purge the budget of exactly this kind of irresponsible spending.
The only problem with Bill Clinton’s use of the line item veto is that he used it too sparingly. Bill Clinton had the opportunity to terminate hundreds of other preposterous spending items with billions of dollars of additional savings. The 1998 Energy and Water bill, for example, contained 423 unrequested projects — conveniently, just about one for every district. Clinton cancelled just 8 of them. Most of the other 415 deserved the same fate.
Senators John McCain (R‐Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D‐Wis.) have done heroic work in exposing billions of dollars of obnoxious items in last year’s spending bills. Why, for instance, didn’t the president cancel the $286,000 for research to enhance the flavor of roasted peanuts? Or the $250,000 for pickle research? Or the $700,000 to build an “aquatic and fitness center” at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa.? Or the $1.35 million to renovate the Paramount Theater in Rutland, Vt.? Or the $2 million for the renovation of an art gallery in Buffalo? Or the $500,000 for the study of livestock pollution (cow dung) at Tarleton State University? Or … well, you get the point.