Why Did President Bush Repudiate the “Inherent” Line-Item Veto?

J. Gregory Sidak


In 1987, an intriguing legal memorandum arrived over the transom at the White House. Sent by New York City securities lawyer Stephen Glazier, it argued that President Reagan did not need a statute or constitutional amendment to exercise a line-item veto because the Constitution inherently confers such power on the President. Far from embracing this novel theory, lawyers in the Reagan and Bush Administrations attacked it, and in 1992, President Bush publicly renounced it. In previous writings we have examined in detail the legal arguments for and against the existence of an "inherent" line-item veto in the Constitution. In Part I of this Essay, we recount the chronology of the debate over the line-item veto from its beginnings in 1987, to its conclusion in 1992. In Part II, we briefly summarize our prior legal analysis because it is critical to assessing the credibility of the frequent claim, implicitly embraced by the Bush Administration, that the theory of the inherent line-item veto is constitutionally baseless. Similarly, we briefly explain why there might exist a broader presidential power to unbundled, and separately veto, non-germane parts of an omnibus piece of legislation. If, as we have previously argued, the legal theory of the inherent line-item veto cannot be dismissed out of hand, then why, we ask in Part III, did two Republican administrations, ostensibly committed to controlling federal spending, denounce the theory so vigorously?

Download as PDF