President Trump’s call for a line-item veto of spending bills is the latest example of his frustration with the rules of Washington.
Trump urged Congress to give him the veto power during an event late last week when signing a $1.3 trillion spending bill that included a number of provisions he didn’t like. He also repeated his call for the Senate to end its filibuster rule that means most bills need 60 votes to pass.
“To prevent the omnibus situation from ever happening again, I’m calling on Congress to give me a line-item veto for all government spending bills,” Trump said. “And the Senate must end — they must end the filibuster rule and get down to work.”
A traditional line-item veto — allowing the president to unilaterally cancel parts of a bill — was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998. Since then, presidents and members of Congress have pushed other proposals to give the president greater ability to cancel spending programs, but those efforts haven’t been successful.
While it’s highly unlikely that Trump would receive powers approximating a line-item veto, allies say the president’s calls send a message to his base that he hears their frustrations about excessive spending and the obstacles to enacting his agenda.
“He’s showing that he’s concerned with out-of-control spending,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.
The omnibus clocked in at more than 2,200 pages, and received a vote in the House less than 24 hours after it was introduced. Many conservative lawmakers voted against the bill, complaining both about the rushed process and its impact on the deficit.
While administration officials emphasized that Trump would sign the bill, the president floated a possible veto early Friday, hours before the signing ceremony. Trump said he signed the bill in order to help the military, but made it clear that he was frustrated that the omnibus also included items that he considered to be wasteful in order to get the support of Democrats.
“I say to Congress: I will never sign another bill like this again,” Trump declared.
When asked about the call for a line-item veto on Monday, White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said Trump wants to reform the budget process.
“The president outlined on Friday why he was very frustrated with the legislation that he was given,” Shah said during a press briefing.
Trump ran for president as a businessman with no prior political experience who promised to “drain the swamp.” Time and again, he’s expressed frustration with the slow pace at which he’s been able to accomplish items on his agenda, in part because of pushback from Congress.
“He’s in a tough spot. It’s a lot different running a company than being president where there are two other branches that have as much power as you do,” said Brandon Arnold, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, which opposed the omnibus.
The spending bill may have been a particularly bitter pill to swallow because by signing it, Trump was enacting legislation opposed by conservative lawmakers and advocacy groups. And if Democrats take control of the House after the midterm elections, Trump will have to negotiate with Democrats even more.
“Republicans know if they’re not in power, [spending is] just going to continue to explode,” O’Connell said, calling the omnibus “a perpetuate-the-swamp bill.”
Frustration with Congress and the budget process on the part of the president isn’t new to Trump. Past presidents have also sought a line-item veto or similar powers.
In 1996, the Republican-controlled Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, a law that allowed the president to have a line-item veto to cancel certain tax and spending provisions. But two years later, the Supreme Court said that law violated the Constitution’s presentment clause, which outlines the specific steps for bills to become law.
Shah signaled that the White House is looking into how to achieve Trump’s goal in light of the constitutional barriers.
“There are certain things being discussed with respect to House and Senate rules,” he said. “I don’t want to get ahead of anything that we may come out in favor of.”
One route the administration could try to take would be to push for an option known as “expedited rescission authority” that was advocated by both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama during their tenures.
Under this idea, after a bill is signed, the president would submit a request to Congress with provisions of the measure that he wants cut. Congress would then be required to take an up-or-down vote on canceling the provisions within a certain timeframe.
In 2012, a bill to give presidents such authority passed the House with some bipartisan support but stalled in the Senate.
The bill was sponsored by then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and then-ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Ryan, who now serves as Speaker, continues to back the idea.
“In the past, Republicans and Democrats have come together to support a constitutional ‘line-item veto’ that would enable the president to propose targeted cuts in spending and to ensure his proposals are promptly acted on by Congress,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said. “The Speaker continues to support this tool to eliminate wasteful spending.”
Conservative groups and budget watchdogs have also supported the idea of expedited rescission authority for presidents, arguing that it would help rein in spending.
“We think there should be a way for the president to remove an item he feels is unnecessary,” said Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
Legislation to create some type of line-item veto may be offered in the near future. Following Trump’s remarks on Friday, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) — a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who is running for governor — said on Twitter that he’d introduce a proposal on the topic “very soon.”
While Democrats are expected to oppose a bill that gives Trump more power and it’s doubtful any line-item veto proposal will get enacted in the near future, conservatives see the issue as a smart cause for lawmakers and Trump to take up.
“I think it would force Congress to face its addiction on spending, which is currently a bipartisan disease,” said Andrew Roth, vice president of government affairs at the Club for Growth. “And Trump would clearly be on the side of the American people, who are tired of these trillion-dollar deficits Congress keeps racking up.”