The Line Item Veto, Roman Stylernby Bruce W. BurtonrnLet us start with some uncheerful axioms about the fiscalrnpolicies of the central government of the United States atrnthe close of the 20th century. “Beggar thy grandchildren” is, dernfacto if not by design, the guiding principle of the UnitedrnStates Congress. The government’s gross debt, plus the interestrnon the debt, plus the locus of the annual deficit, all combinernto inflict seismic damage on the nation’s future. What are therncore conditions leading to our national ailment? First, the federalrngovernment is too aggressive in gratifying ever-expandingrnappetites for new programs to solve every constituent-perceivedrnproblem. Government is too timid to establish prioritiesrnamong a near-infinite number of programs clamoring tornspend near-infinite resources. Government also refuses to setrnand observe spending priorities, the necessary precondition tornany fiscal solution.rnSimultaneously, there exists a “grandiloquence gap”—a vastrnchasm between the system’s bewitchery in promoting newrnprograms and the implacable reality of our financial condition.rnFor example, the need to care for victims of AIDS, cancer, cribrndeath, and learning disabilities outstrips both science and thernfisc. Tragically and typically, however, the program-promotingrnrhetoric always outpoints reality in the media’s ratings-drivenrnattention.rnIf you find yourself in accord with these cloudy axioms andrnwish to examine a workable solution to the budget problem,rnread on. If you do not embrace these axioms, you will not bernBruce W. Burton is a professor of law at South Texas Collegernof Law in Houston.rnamused by what follows and should find something else tornread.rnThe fiscal condition of the American government shows allrnthe symptoms of an ancient disease. It is a disease whichrnMadison, Jefferson, and others warned against with incisivernclarity at the start of the Republic, but against which no structuralrnremedies were then created that remain effective today.rnEssentially, the malady is the appetite of elected legislatures tornspare no extravagance in the pursuit of immediate constituentrngratification, without regard to whether all private fortunes arerndestroyed and the economic machinery disabled in the process.rnThomas Jefferson warned of exactly this spendthrift ethos.rnSince no effective constitutional cures now exist, it falls tornour lot, as the 13th generation of citizens since the original settlersrn(or as the generational groups appurtenant to that 13 thrngeneration), to create some. One such remedy, if propertyrnstructured, is the line item veto, Roman style.rnWe are told, mostly by those most enamored of the congressionalrnspending ethos, that the creation of a line item vetornwith real bite to it (as contrasted with Speaker Foley’s toothlessrnersatz version), exercisable by an American President uponrnany appropriation or expenditure, would prove to be repellantrnto democratic political theory. Opponents of the line item vetornassert that such control, in the hands of a determined chiefrnexecutive, would dramatically and permanently tilt the necessaryrnbalance of power away from the House and Senate and towardrnthe White House. The risk to our institutions is that Caesarism,rnor worse, would surely follow. Even when voiced byrndeficit-embracing pols who desire only to keep the spendingrn22/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn