President George W. Bush got a lot of applause during his State of the Union Address Jan. 31 when he urged Congress to “pass the line-item veto” as a way of reducing pork-barrel spending.

Small problem with the idea: the Supreme Court declared the line-item veto flat-out unconstitutional in 1998.”Our duty is clear,” proclaimed Justice John Paul Stevens in the 6-3 decision Clinton v. City of New York. Presidents may only sign or veto entire acts of Congress, the Court said, and can’t pick and choose which parts they like. “There is no provision in the Constitution that authorizes the President to enact, to amend, or to repeal statutes,” Stevens wrote. The law, passed by Congress in 1996, authorized presidents to “cancel” individual items of federal spending included in bills passed by Congress.

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