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Star Ethics in Government Star

Friday February 13, 1998

Another Bad News Day
Stuns Clinton White House

By Mel Horowitz, Daily Republican Contributor

NEW YORK DESK - A New York U.S. District Court halted president Clinton's use of the line-item veto and called the practice 'unconstitutional' yesterday.

'The Line-Item Veto Act is unconstitutional because it impermissibly disrupts the balance of powers among the three branches of government,' New York U.S. District Court judge Thomas Hogan wrote in his Opinion on Thursday.

The Justice Department will ask the Supreme Court for a quick review of Hogan's decision. The law itself requires an immediate appeal to the high court. The high court could make a decision by the end of June.

The Clinton White House is said to have been stunned by the reversal.

Clinton exercised the veto power 82 times in the past year, striking $1.9 billion in spending projected over five years.

When he used it for the first time, on Aug. 11, killing three items in budget-balancing and tax cuts bills, he declared, ``The Washington rules have changed for good, and for the good of the American people.''

He vetoed 38 military construction projects in the first annual spending bill for 1998. In response, angry lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to restore them and expressed serious doubts about the merits of the veto authority.

New York City sued president Clinton and two other federal officials, challenging the constitutionality of the line-item veto. The complaint stems from Clinton's use of the line-item-veto to override a provision in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that allowed certain New York state expenditures derived from health care provider taxes qualified for federal financial participation under Medicaid.

New York's lawsuit involved an estimated $2.6 billion in disputed federal Medicaid payments made to New York hospitals since 1992. The Clinton administration contends the state received too much and wants some of it returned.

Clinton's veto struck a paragraph in the federal budget bill that would have settled the dispute in New York's favor.

Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro of New York City said, 'This was an unconstitutional act that would have cost the city as much as $2.5 billion over time, and therefore we are very pleased with the court's decision. While the mayor supports the concept, it was exercised impermissibly and unconstitutionally in this instance.'

The Justice Department attempted to persuade the Court with an implausible contention that the veto merely gives the president five days after he receives a spending bill from Congress to decide whether to spend the money as intended by lawmakers or apply it instead to cutting the federal debt.

However, the Court ruled that what the president had obtained by the enactment of the line-item-veto was greatly expanded unconstitutional authority '...to permanently shape laws and package legislation.'

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