Obama to Ask for 'Enhanced Rescission Authority'

Over the weekend, rumors began trickling out of the administration that President Obama will soon send to Congress a proposal to grant the president greater authority to cut spending out of enacted appropriations bills, called enhanced recession authority. In a Congressional Quarterly article (subscription), which ran on Friday, and a Bureau of National Affairs piece (subscription), which appeared yesterday, an unnamed administration source states that the White House will send the proposal to Capitol Hill before Memorial Day.

According to the anonymous official, the proposal would give the president 45 days "to send back to Congress a list of objectionable items in any discretionary spending bill." The list would first go to the House and, if successfully passed, then go on to the Senate. Congress would have 25 days to vote on the rescission package as a whole without amendments.

Currently, the president can put a temporary 45-day hold on spending authority in an appropriations bill and request that Congress either cancel or rescind the items. Congress, however, is under no obligation to take up the request, and if the legislature does not act within the 45 days, the president has to release the hold.

President Barack Obama

The BNA article notes that the president's proposal will join several other enhanced rescission authority bills currently floating around Capitol Hill. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who welcomed Obama's future proposal as "an important tool to target wasteful spending," has suggested giving the president 30 days to send over a rescission package that could include discretionary spending items as well as tax and tariff expenditures. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has introduced a companion measure in the Senate.

There are also proposals by Blue Dog Rep. Walt Minnick (D-ID), which would only give the president three days to act on his rescission authority, and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), which would limit the president to four rescission packages a year. Rep. Minnick's legislation would only allow for rescission of discretionary spending, but Sen. Gregg's would allow rescission of tax expenditures and mandatory spending items.

The idea behind enhanced or expedited rescission authority is to get around the unconstitutionality of the line-item veto provided by Congress to President Bill Clinton in 1996.

There is opposition to enhanced rescission authority. Some members of Congress, including many appropriators from both sides of the aisle, oppose ceding more power to the president over budgetary matters, and fear that a president might abuse the power. This could include targeting the projects of the opposite political party.

The social equity non-profit sector is also opposed to providing the president with additional rescission power. Under a Republican president or in times of deficit hysteria, programs to help minorities or the poor would likely be the first targeted, especially under proposals that only allow the president to request rescission of discretionary spending.

Image by Flickr user jurvetson used under a Creative Commons license.

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