ANALYSIS | The notion that House Republicans would hand a powerful weapon to a Democratic Party president seems surprising. What may be more surprising is why Obama really isn't too excited about getting it.
The initial thinking is that House Republicans are giving this power to the White House, not Obama per se. That's because they expect him to be a one-term president. If so, they should have given it to him in 2011, when his reelection chances looked bleaker, rather than 2012, when his position seems stronger. GOP presidential candidates aren't inspiring much confidence.
If Obama gets reelected, he'll have the power to zap Republican items out of a budget. Why would the GOP want this to happen? Even a Republican President Mitt Romney could do the same, even to Republicans in Congress (along with Democrat provisions, of course).
And if this is really an amazing weapon, why isn't Obama more thrilled to get it? Perhaps the answer has more to do with the realization that this powerful line-item veto is actually a double-edged sword.
As a College Republican in 1988, I saw the line-item veto as the way to solve the nation's deficit problems, knocking out pet projects. All of the Republican candidates were for it, especially Vice-President George H. W. Bush. Most of the Democrats were members of Congress (Dick Gephardt, Paul Simon, Al Gore, etc.) who were opposed to it. The only one who wanted it was Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. It didn't make sense to me at the time. But I came to realize that it was because Dukakis thought like an executive, and wanted the authority.
During the 2008 election, Obama was nearly silent on the subject of the line-item veto. In 2009, his press secretary Robert Gibbs, likened the potential use of it to a "test drive," hardly a ringing endorsement. Obama voted against the line-item veto as a senator.
So why didn't Obama want it? Those with congressional experience (like Obama and the House Republicans) know that presidents can allow small items to slip through big bills. They can explain to angry constituents that it was part of some omnibus measure, and they took the utilitarian approach, providing the greatest good for the greatest number.
But with a line-item veto, every small item can become a battleground. Take the contraception in the health care. Presidents will be held accountable for the small vetoes, and the non-vetoes as well (items allowed to pass). Presidents will be held accountable for every single small piece of legislation (even earmarks), and can no longer plead the big bill excuse. Obama seems to be painted into a box over that Keystone pipeline provision that was inserted into a bill. He'll either face angry motorists over gas prices or environmentalists from his base, and can't use the big bill excuse. Like Spiderman's "Uncle Ben" said, "with great power comes great responsibility."