The opinion of the court was delivered by: JACKSON
This action challenges the validity of legislation entitled the Line Item Veto Act, Pub. Law No. 104-130, 110 Stat. 1200 (1996) (to be codified at 2 U.S.C. §§ 681 note, 691 et seq.) ("the Act"), which empowers the President unilaterally to "cancel" certain appropriations and tax benefits after signing them into law. The Act represents an effort by Congress to enlist presidential assistance in controlling rampant federal spending by conferring upon the President what it termed a species of "enhanced rescission" power, expanding the authority he formerly possessed under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. Plaintiffs, four Senators and two Congressmen,
contend that the mechanism chosen by Congress to its desired end contravenes the text and purpose of Article I, section 7, clause 2, known as the "Presentment Clause" of the Constitution. Rather than making expenditures of federal funds appropriated by Congress matters of presidential discretion, the Act effectively permits the President to repeal duly enacted provisions of federal law. This he cannot do. Accordingly, the Court will grant plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, deny defendants' motion, and declare the Act unconstitutional.
Operation of the Line Item Veto Act
Following years of importuning by successive Presidents and vacillation by earlier Congresses, President Clinton approved the Line Item Veto Act as passed by the 104th Congress on April 9, 1996. Immediately after it became effective on January 1, 1997, the plaintiff Senators and Congressmen filed this action to declare it void. Named defendants are the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Secretary of the Treasury -- the officials alleged, respectively, to be responsible for executing the President's "cancellations" of spending items and limited tax benefits under the Act. The United States Senate and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives have appeared jointly as amici curiae to defend the constitutionality of the Act.
The Act, which sunsets on January 1, 2005, allows the President, after signing a bill into law, to "cancel in whole"--
(1) any dollar amount of discretionary budget authority;
(2) any item of new direct spending; or
(3) any limited tax benefit.
The most critical definition is found in § 691e(4). The term "cancel" or "cancellation" means "to rescind" any dollar amount of discretionary budget authority or to prevent items of new direct spending or limited tax benefits "from having legal force or effect." Id.
To exercise the cancellation power the President must first determine that it will--
(i) reduce the Federal budget deficit;
(ii) not impair any essential Government functions; and
(iii) not harm the national interest.
2 U.S.C. § 691(a)(A). The President effects a cancellation by transmitting a "special message" to Congress within five calendar days (excluding Sundays) after enactment of the law containing the item(s) in question. 2 U.S.C. § 691(a)(B). The Act spells out the content requirements for a special message and provides that it shall be printed in the Federal Register. 2 U.S.C. § 691a.
Once an item has been canceled, no further action by Congress is required; cancellation takes effect upon Congress' receipt of the special message. 2 U.S.C. § 691b(a). Congress may thereafter introduce a "disapproval bill" to reenact any canceled items within five days of receiving the special message, and must pass it within 30 days.
2 U.S.C. § 691d(b), (c)(1). The President can, of course, exercise a conventional veto of any disapproval bill, but Congress can then reinstate the status quo ante by overriding that veto.
The Act is best understood against the historical backdrop of the efforts of the President and Congress over the years to control government spending and, in more recent times, to reduce an ever-increasing federal budget deficit. It is a product of many years of inter-branch conflict and compromise over how to accomplish those goals. Since the outset of the 19th Century, American Presidents have labored to influence Congress' spending habits, and many have lobbied in particular for the authority to veto selected provisions of bills presented for their signature. See 12 Op. Off. Legal Counsel 128, 157-65 (1988). Congress has considered both amending the Constitution and enacting several alternative legislative measures to give the President the increased authority he has sought and Congress has intermittently resisted.
Although Presidents have uniformly acknowledged that the Constitution affords no inherent authority for a line-item veto
-- indeed, as explained below, it clearly forbids anything but rejection of a bill in toto -- they have managed to exert their will by "impounding" -- or simply not spending -- appropriated funds. In some instances, Presidents have refused to spend money on measures that conflicted with their foreign policy objectives, or that would advance an unconstitutional purpose. Most of the time, however, Presidents simply preferred not to spend the money for the purposes for which Congress had allocated it. See, e.g., David A. Martin, Protecting the Fisc: Executive Impoundment and Congressional Power, 82 Yale L.J. 1636, 1644-45 (1973). Some impoundments have been challenged successfully in federal court; others have either been judicially sanctioned or not contested at all. See City of New Haven v. United States, 634 F. Supp. 1449, 1454 (D.D.C. 1986), aff'd 258 U.S. App. D.C. 59, 809 F.2d 900 (D.C. Cir. 1987).
Although presidential impoundments throughout the 19th century occurred in a state of uncertainty as to their legality, Congress has in this century conferred a measure of legitimacy upon them and given some direction as to their use. In the Anti-Deficiency Acts of 1905 and 1906, requiring "apportionment" aimed at saving money for the end of a fiscal year, Congress also allowed the President to waive spending appropriations in the event of emergencies or unusual circumstances. Act of March 3, 1905, ch. 1484, § 4, 33 Stat. 1257; Act of Feb. 27, 1906, ch. 510, § 3, 34 Stat. 48. When Congress amended the Anti-Deficiency Act in 1950, it created a mechanism for the Executive Branch to recommend the rescission of any reserves ...