President to Ask for Line-Item Veto

President Bush is expected to make a formal request to Congress for a line-item veto. That would give him the authority to cancel specific spending items in budget bills. Renee Montagne talks with News Analyst Cokie Roberts about the line-item veto, and about the primary election in Texas covering the seat of former House Majority leader Tom Delay.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush is scheduled today to swear in the new head of the White House Council of Economic Advisors. The president is expected to use the occasion to announce that he's sending proposed legislation to Congress asking for a line-item veto.

Joining me now is NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So this president has not vetoed a single piece of legislation during his entire five years in office. Why would he be asking for a line-item veto now? To give him more flexibility, so he can veto something?

ROBERTS: Well, of course, that what he would be saying, but I assume what he's trying to do is change the subject away from Iraq and the Dubai Ports deal and, to some degree, Katrina--although, the president is scheduled to go to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast this week.

The line-item veto is a tool that many governors have where they take an individual item out of legislation passed by the legislature, or in this case, Congress, and veto it while letting the rest of the legislation stand. It has been part of the conservative bible forever. It's been one of those issues that conservatives rally around saying that it gives the president the power that he needs to cut spending. And actually, a Republican Congress passed it with a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, which is surprising. But I guess, they couldn't suddenly say it was a bad idea because there was a Democratic president.

And the Supreme Court struck it down as a violation of the separation of powers. Now the Bush Administration says that it will change the language in the legislation to answer the court's concerns. But it's hard to take this terribly seriously, Renee, as a real legislative effort. And the truth is the president's been able to convince Republicans in Congress on most things to keep, keep out items he doesn't like in bills, which is one of the reasons he hasn't vetoed any.

MONTAGNE: Well, turning now to a political issue, President Bush heads to Texas to vote in that state's Republican primary where former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is facing Republican opposition. What's gonna happen there?

ROBERTS: Well, he has no really top-flight opposition in this primary. His main opponent is a lawyer named Tom Campbell who has raised under $200,000 compared with Tom DeLay's millions. But it would be interesting to see how well his opponents do. And everyone will be reading the tea leaves after tomorrow's election to see how it will likely play out in the fall when DeLay is up against the former Democratic congressman who was redistricted out of his seat.

He could have real trouble there, especially if there is a poor showing tomorrow in Texas. It's interesting though, Renee, in the wake of, of Tom DeLay's problems and those surrounding Lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the Senate is expected to take up a couple of lobbying reform bills this week. We'll see what happens with that.

MONTAGNE: And meanwhile, Vice President Cheney goes to Florida to campaign for a Republican House member. If the president and vice president are having so much trouble politically, Cokie, why are members of Congress asking them to show up on their behalf?

ROBERTS: Well the president and vice president are still pretty popular with the conservative base of the Republican party, although a Gallup Poll released on Friday, the number of people who strongly approve of the president was at its lowest of his tenure. And those that strongly disapprove of him was at its highest of his tenure. And surprisingly, the vice president is, had a slightly higher approval rating than the president.

But still, both gentlemen can raise a whole lot of money and that's what perennially endangered Clay Shaw in Florida hopes the vice president does for him. And the president's been doing that too, especially for the most-endangered Republican Senate incumbents. He's raised a lot of money in Pennsylvania and Ohio. But those senators, Santorum and DeWine, while cashing the president's checks, have not been terribly eager to show up at public events with the president. So they are asking the president and vice president to do the things that work for them and not the things that don't.

MONTAGNE: And Republicans are continuing to hammer the administration over the Dubai Ports deal.

ROBERTS: Indeed and it's keeping up. I think that what you're gonna hear, from here on out, is how much more the administration should consult with Congress. People are genuinely nervous about this deal and they're nervous about Democrats getting through the right of them on their issue of security. But it's significant because it's not just moderates like Susan Collins of Maine who is opposing the president on this, but some of the president's most ardent supporters like Duncan Hunter of California, who's the chairman of the Armed Services committee. And he, Congressman Hunter is keeping up that course of criticism.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much.

NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts.

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