WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12: U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Vice President Mike Pence, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R...
Alex Wong

Team Trump stumbles on call for line-item veto gimmick

In the 1990s, congressional Republicans embraced a series of misguided gimmicks as key elements of their agenda, with much of the focus on three specific ideas: term limits, a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and giving the president the power of a line-item veto. A quarter of a century later, it feels like we’re watching an episode of That ’90s Show.

Near the end of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, for example, he became an enthusiastic supporter of term limits, despite having previously opposed them. Earlier this month, House GOP leaders reiterated their support for a balanced-budget amendment. And on Friday, the president put a capstone on the trifecta after admitting defeat and signing an omnibus spending package into law.

“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 followed up soon after with a tweet, urging lawmakers to give him “a line-item veto for all govt spending bills!”

As the president should probably know, Congress created a line-item veto in 1996 – and it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court two years later. (Brief trivia note: the case against the law was brought by the city of New York, which was led at the time by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close Trump ally.)

And how, pray tell, does Team Trump intend to work around the obvious legal impediment? That’s the funny part: they don’t know and don’t seem to care. Consider what happened on “Fox News Sunday, when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin echoed the president’s call for a line-item veto:

WALLACE: But that’s been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, sir.

MNUCHIN: Well, again, Congress could pass a rule, OK, that allows them to do it. But –

WALLACE: No, no, sir, it would be a constitutional amendment.

MNUCHIN: Chris, we don’t – we don’t need to get into a debate in terms of – there’s different ways of doing this.

This sounds an awful lot like a don’t-bother-me-with-details response to an unavoidable question. Why does the president want a power the Supreme Court says he cannot have? According to the Treasury secretary, the answer seems to be, just because.

Even with a Republican Congress, the White House is going to need a better pitch.

Postscript: Before anyone emails me, I’m aware of the fact that the Obama administration kicked around the idea of something that kinda sorta looked like the line-item veto. But let’s not lose sight of the details: what the Obama administration suggested was fundamentally different and was designed to pass constitutional muster.