Earlier this month, Robert Novak reports, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina told President Bush something mighty interesting: There’s no need for the President to push for a new line item veto. Why not? Because the chief executive already has the power to ignore a lot of congressional spending. DeMint, Novak explains, cited a recent report by the Congressional Research Service:
“[The] March 6 report…said more than 95 percent of all earmarks were not written into law but were merely contained in the reports of congressional committees and legislative managers. ‘Earmarks that appear in committee reports and the statements of managers do not legally bind agencies,’ said the report.”
A couple of hours ago I happened to mention this to my colleague here at the Hoover Institution, economist John Cogan. John agreed with DeMint, then cited a precedent in which he himself was directly involved.
Shortly after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, John was serving in the Office of Management and Budget. He discovered that Congress had larded a housing bill with dozens of earmarks. The OMB staff identified all the earmarks that were contained in congressional reports, not in the actual legislation—a heavy majority—and then simply refused to spend any money on them.
Could President Bush do likewise today? Of course he could. “DeMint,” said John, “is absolutely right.”