Feb 10 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For

Mobile Press-Register

By Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

In an editorial last Friday, the Press-Register called into question my vote on the “Line Item Veto.”  It suggested that to “take better care of public dollars” the government must institute a line item veto, which grants untold authority to the President, or eliminate special project funding all together, which places the power of the purse in the hands of a few unelected federal bureaucrats.  I take issue with the substance and accuracy of that editorial.

I have always been a strong advocate of a Balanced Budget Amendment.  In fact, I have introduced legislation to create a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution each Congress since 1981.  A mandate for Congress to balance its books is the only way we will ever bring true fiscal restraint to the federal budget process. 

A Balanced Budget Amendment would ensure that the President would have to submit and Congress would have to pass a balanced budget each year.  It would require difficult decisions, but it would ensure that Congress and the President carefully consider each and every spending decision.  Unfortunately, that cannot always be said about today’s spending decisions.

However, it is important to note that there is a difference between responsible federal spending and ceding Congress’ Constitutional duty to determine federal spending.  The President already has tremendous authority to direct federal spending through his annual budget submission to Congress – a request that itself is full of pet projects that serve special interests.  It is for these reasons that I voted against the Line Item Veto. 

The Constitution clearly grants Congress the power of the purse.  For Congress to unilaterally abdicate that responsibility to the President would be contrary to the separation of powers envisioned by our forefathers and upheld by the Supreme Court.  The Constitution grants the President the authority to veto entire pieces of legislation.  It does not grant him the authority to pick and choose the parts he supports and discard those he does not.

In the absence of a Balanced Budget Amendment, I have always advocated that Congress live within the budget allocations voted on by the House and Senate.  I am not however, an advocate of allowing unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. decide how to spend your hard-earned tax dollars.  Let us not forget that the money is yours and ultimately, it is going to get spent -- if not in Alabama, then in Massachusetts, California, Illinois or elsewhere across the country.

While it is true that some have abused the power to direct federal spending, many more have used it for good; federal dollars have the ability to bring about change and to spur greater economic opportunity.  The University of South Alabama Cancer Center, for example, became a reality after receiving $43 million in federal funding.  The Alabama State Docks is an important economic driver in South Alabama and today it is thriving and expanding after receiving more than $60 million in federal funding.  The same is true for countless other projects throughout South Alabama and across the state.  Without federal dollars, these important projects would still be a dream. Yet the Press-Register declares that the “president is the only person in Washington electorally qualified…” to be fiscally responsible.  I disagree.

I believe the people of Alabama elected me to represent their interests in Washington and I work diligently to do so every day.  I believe in fiscal responsibility.  I also believe in maintaining Congress’ Constitutional duty to direct federal spending.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  The President, whether a democrat or republican, would never see fit to fund the Alabama State Docks, the Maritime Center of the Gulf, the Saenger Theater, the Mobile Airport, the proposed University of South Alabama Science and Engineering Center or any number of worthy Alabama projects. 

But, if the Press-Register is granted its wish, we may soon find out.  To that I say:  Be careful what you wish for.