This week on the West Wing Best Wing podcast, Molly and I discussed "Enemies," the eighth episode of season one. And no, we didn't just pick it because I have a minor crush on Fake VP John Hoynes, to go along with my major crush on Real VP Joe Biden.
No, we picked this episode because there was a complicated political issue that Aaron Sorkin didn't really explain. In the episode, Congressional Republicans attach a land-use rider to a banking bill that the White House has been working hard to pass. But what is a rider? And what can the president do when faced with a rider?
A "rider" is an amendment that representatives attach to an unrelated bill. For example, Representatives could write an amendment saying that private funds couldn't be used to pay for abortions, and attach it to a bill that works to prevent human trafficking, as Congressional Republicans did last spring. More about the fight for that bill in this blog post.
When a president is sent a bill with a rider, they can either veto the entire bill, to ensure the provisions in the rider don't become law, or they can pass the bill and accept the rider. It sure would be nice if presidents could just veto the rider, and accept the whole bill though. Has anyone thought about that possibility?
Why yes, phantom reader! That's called a "line item veto" and Congress gave the president power to do that in 1996. This no doubt ensured the balanced budget of 1997, because instead of accepting the entire budget, stuffed with special programs and potentially odd riders, President Clinton could veto certain parts of the bill, but still pass a balanced budget.
But all good things must come to an end. The Supreme Court declared the line item veto unconstitutional in 1998, because a line item veto violates the “constitutional requirement that legislation be passed by both houses of Congress and presented in its entirety to the president for signature or veto.”
The lack of a line item veto is why I get angry when John Kasich touts his experience balancing the budget. John Kasich balanced the federal budget with the benefit of a line item veto, and I don't believe he could replicate that today.
This episode also features Molly and I nerding out about National Parks and the Antiquities Act. The fact that we care so much about National Parks, National Monuments, and National Forests was a surprise to us, but beneficial to all of you listeners.