Trump Signs Omnibus, Calls for Line-Item Veto – A Tall Order Without Constitutional Amendment

AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Donald Trump signed the 2,232 page, $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill Friday, explaining he felt compelled to do so in order to properly fund the U.S. military.

“We had no choice but to fund our military, because we have to have the strongest military in the world,” the president told reporters.

Then the president explicitly called for an end to the Senate’s filibuster rule, which would allow simple 51-vote majorities to pass legislation, and for a “line-item veto” to allow him to omit undesirable provisions from large bills like this one.

The former proposal would require action on the part of the Senate GOP under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), but the line item veto would be a tougher climb. In 1996, Congress created a limited line-item veto which was used by then-President Bill Clinton dozens of times, often limiting federal spending.

The line-item veto was quickly found to be a violation of the Constitution’s Presentment Clause by a 6-3 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision, in Clinton v. City of New York, strongly suggests a new line-item veto would require a constitutional amendment.

The line-item was a rallying point of the GOP platform for much of the 1990s, featuring in Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey’s fabled 1994 “Contract with America” that helped deliver one of the largest mid-term election victories in American history. The idea was that, armed with the ability to remove particularly troublesome spending provisions from large bundled “must-pass” bills, the president could help rein in spending.

As for this spending bill, the second largest in U.S. history, Trump quickly made clear he was signing under protest, slamming Democrats for refusing to consider proper border wall funding and a legislative compromise for the 800,000 illegal aliens covered by President Barack Obama’s now-rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He also criticized the Congress as a whole for proposing and passing such large, imperfect spending legislation with insufficient time to read the bill. “Nobody read it,” the President said.

Failing to sign the bill could have set up a government shutdown as early as midnight Friday. Trump focused on some of what he saw as the bill’s positives, including some limited new funding for border security. Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen called the bill’s language a “down payment” on President Trump’s signature southern border wall.

“I will never sign another bill like this again,” Trump claimed, but, while an end to the Senate’s traditional filibuster rule is possible with a bare Republican majority, the political campaign necessary to usher through a constitutional amendment for a line-item veto is likely out of reach in the current political climate.