* Obama seeks to tackle wasteful spending
* White House: proposal is different from line item veto
(Adds senator quotes, GAO report)
By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, May 24 President Barack Obama sent
a proposal to Congress on Monday that would increase his
ability to trim costs from congressional spending bills and
fight the U.S. deficit.
The "Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010" would enable
the president to submit a package of cuts, or "rescissions," to
Congress for a vote after lawmakers pass the various
appropriations bills that fund federal programs every year.
Obama, a Democrat, has made spending cuts a key ingredient
in his efforts to reduce the U.S. budget deficit, which hit
$1.4 trillion in 2009, just shy of 10 percent of the overall
economy. Republicans charge that his policies' high price tags
have helped inflate the deficit to unsustainable levels.
Obama's proposal, which requires congressional approval to
become law, would give him and his successors a stronger hand
in cutting "earmarks" and other expensive items they do not
support from spending bills.
The president would deliver a slate of proposed cuts within
45 working days of a spending bill's passage. Congress would be
required to look at the suggestions as a package and, without
making any amendments, give them an up-or-down vote within a
specific period of time.
"It adds to the arsenal in trying to cut back on
unnecessary spending," White House budget director Peter Orszag
told reporters on a conference call. "It's not a panacea, but
it's an important additional tool."
The White House said the proposal differs from a line-item
veto in which a president unilaterally cuts specific provisions
from a spending bill. The Supreme Court rejected a presidential
line-item veto as unconstitutional.
The proposal comes amid growing fears about high budget
deficits in the United States and abroad. It also strikes at
tensions between the executive branch and the legislative
branch, which guards its control of the U.S. purse.
"The Congress has never served as a rubber stamp for any
administration's budget request, and I see no reason why we
would start doing so now," said Democrat Daniel Inouye, who
heads the Senate committee that handles spending.
A CHANGE, BUT NOT A VETO
U.S. presidents currently have the authority to propose
changes to spending bills, but Congress can make changes to the
president's proposals if it wishes.
Since 1974, the White House has proposed $76 billion in
rescissions and Congress has enacted $25 billion of them,
according to the Government Accountability Office. Congress has
enacted $210 billion in rescissions on its own in that period.
Obama is not the first president to seek greater power to
pick through budget bills. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat,
gained a line-item veto from Congress, but the Supreme Court
struck that down in 1998. Republican President George W. Bush
sought the same power.
Orszag said this proposal was different from a line-item
veto because Congress would still have to pass the slate of
proposed cuts before the president could sign them into law.
"The line-item veto gave the knife to the president. That
was unconstitutional. Here we are providing a way for the
president to give the knife back to Congress to help it cut out
unnecessary fat," he said.
With congressional elections in November and voters
increasingly nervous over record spending deficits, the
proposal is likely to find some allies on Capitol Hill.
But some Republicans said Obama's proposals were
"The president would have this authority already if he and
members of his administration hadn't blocked similar
legislation when they served in the Senate," said Senate
Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Orszag's spokesman, Kenneth Baer, said Obama had not voted
for a similar proposal when he was a senator because the
version at the time went too far, allowing the president to
seek cuts in social programs such as Social Security that are
not touched in the current proposal.
Fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats are likely to
embrace Obama's proposal, as it resembles a bill they
introduced earlier this year.
"We know that restoring fiscal discipline to the federal
government means putting strong budget enforcement tools in
place," said Representative Jim Matheson, a Blue Dog leader.
(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Cynthia