Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Mark Kirk Wants to Give Obama More Power. Huh?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Suppose you can’t stop eating. Just can’t … stop … eating. Steaks, chili fries, entire barbecued chickens, banana splits, fried cheese curds, Belgian waffles. Your appetite is so ravenous that you’ve taken out a second mortgage just to pay your grocery bill.

    You’ve tried going on a diet, you really have, but you’ve finally admitted that you have no willpower. So you decide to place your dining decisions in someone else’s hands. You ask your mom to join you at every meal and pick fattening foods off your plate. It’s the only way you can lose weight.

    That’s as good an analogy as any for the line-item veto, the discredited government tactic that Mark Kirk wants to restore to Washington. Congress gave President Bill Clinton a line-item veto in 1996, but the law was struck down by the Supreme Court as a violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers.

    Kirk told St. Louis’s KMOX radio that the line item veto is a “small systemic reform” necessary to control federal spending.

    Actually, it’s a major reform that would disrupt the traditional duties of each branch of government. Federal spending is the responsibility of Congress, not the president. The Constitution mandates that all spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives -- the body Kirk currently sits in.

    Allowing the president to pick and choose among budget items is admitting that Congress is too irresponsible to fulfill its own duties, and needs a grown-up monitor. We can’t stop spending, so we’re going to ask the president to stop us!

    Kirk is basically saying that socialist president Barack Obama can do a better job of controlling the budget than a Republican Senate could. (To be fair, GOP veto advocates say the system being considered would still give Congress a voice in what actually gets vetoed.)

    Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a great defender of Congress’s prerogatives, is among the line-item veto’s staunchest opponents, believing it gives the president too much power over spending -- which is, after all, the ultimate government power.

    “When the Roman Senate gave away its control of the purse strings, it gave away its power to check the executive,” Byrd once said in a speech.

    Byrd loved to hearken back to the ancient Romans, whose leaders were “men of uncommon dedication and acumen.”

    No one would deny that Kirk is a man of uncommon dedication and acumen, too. He should use those qualities to control spending, instead of passing the buck to the president.