Rudy's Line Item Solution: Amend The Constitution

In Mayor Rudy Giuliani's "culture of spending" speech in Iowa yesterday, a clarion call for a constitutional amendment permitting a line-item veto was sounded.

Economic conservatives love that. There's an teensy-eensy political thorn for Rudy to remove: he's the guy responsible for killing the line item veto when Congress, through statute, gave that authority to President Clinton. When Clinton threatened to veto some New York Medicare "pork", Giuliani objected, the city sued, and the Supreme Court agreed with the city's argument that the line item veto was unconstitutional.
Confronted by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday about his line-item opposition, Giuliani was unrepentant. A rival campaign passes along the transcript:

WALLACE: You talk about what would work in Washington. A lot of people say the single most effective tool that a president could have to cut spending is the line-item veto. … And yet, when you were mayor … President Clinton — when he had that power back in the mid-'90s, he used it to line-item veto what he said was excessive Medicaid spending. You not only opposed it, you took him to the Supreme Court and you got it ruled unconstitutional. So it's because of you we don't have the line-item veto.

GIULIANI: The line-item veto is unconstitutional, and I'm a strict constructionist. The line-item veto — if we want, it has to be done by constitutional amendment. The reality is it so fundamentally alters the separation of powers if you read the Constitution carefully and you go back to the Federalist Papers, it's unconstitutional. The Supreme Court decided that. I believe that. And of course, it was in the interest of my city to advocate for it. And when I took an oath of office to be mayor of New York City, it was my job to protect the people of New York City, and I did it vigorously and strongly and... and we were correct in our interpretation of the Constitution. And the president was incorrect.

The home of "strict constructionists" includes the theoretical furtniture to amend the constitution, but generally only when public policy is so profoundly at odds with the intentions of the founding generation. Giuliani's the one who said, very recently, that the line item veto was of a profoundly different hue than the maw of the constitutional generation.

As the Supreme Court was debating the case in 1988, Giuliani told CNN:

I've been a lawyer for a longer time than I've been mayor. I'm never confident when you go to court. I think the arguments for its unconstitutionality and how it violates the separation of powers are very strong, and Congress -- the Reagan administration began the argument for line-item veto -- I remember; I was part of it -- and the argument was to get a constitutional amendment to do this. So this was the quick and easy way to do it, but it turns out that it really violates a fundamental balance that exists in our government.”

Perhaps Giuliani takes a lawyer's view of public office. Past is not prologue, and you only have one client at a time. One assumes that Giuliani agreed at the time that it should be unconstitutional in part because it was a bad thing in an of itself. Or else even the great Bela Karolyi could not teach the mental gymnastics required to understand that the logic.

It's possible that Giuliani no longer worries about the separation of powers argument he raised. Or maybe the times demand a different balance of power. Or that he sees government spending from a different vantage point.

One final irony: as mayor if New York City, Giuliani had line-item veto powers and used them to trim hundreds of millions of dollars from the city council's proposed budgets.

A side note: the most interesting paragraph of Giuliani's speech yesterday was his history lesson.

Remember the age of malaise when Jimmy Carter was the president? And then, (snap), it turned around like that when we had a president who saw America through rose-colored glasses--Ronald Reagan. Well, if you don't see America that way, you can't make it like that. If you can't close your eyes and dream of a country that is bigger, better, stronger, you can't make it bigger, better and stronger. If you're a minimalist, you just drag everything down. You've got to be an optimist, and we have to reclaim for the Republican party that role. We don't think small. We think big. We don't think retreat. We think victory. We don't think reduction in America. We think growth. And we share with the rest of the world, because we're good people. Not because we want to impose anything on them. That's the kind of Republican Party we need. That's the kind of America we need. This is only one part of it. It's an important part of it. In order to accomplish that, I need your support in Iowa. I'm going to come here. I'm going to work for it. We're going to earn it. Because the only thing you ever get in life you earn, and Iowans make you very much aware of that.