LINE-ITEM VETO: Ruling Impacts NY’s Medicaid Program
A federal judge yesterday struck down the line-item veto, a decision which has major policy implications for New York's Medicaid program. "In a major blow to President Clinton and Republican leaders of Congress," the judge "ruled Thursday that it was unconstitutional for the president to veto individual items in spending and tax legislation" (Pear, New York Times, 2/13). The ruling "preserve[s], for the moment, a set of New York State hospital taxes that are crucial to financing health care services for the poor and uninsured." Last summer, Clinton used the line-item veto to strike a provision from the federal budget act which "would have exempted New York's hospital taxes from" a 1991 law "intended to prevent states from overcollecting federal Medicaid dollars." At the time, Clinton said the provision "would set an unacceptable precedent for resolving similar disputes with other states" (Dao, New York Times, 2/13).
A Big Apple Win
According to the New York Times, the "ruling was a victory for New York City and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani [R]," which "had joined hospitals and health care workers in challenging President Clinton's use of the" veto power. Giuliani said the judge's ruling "was important because it preserved a set of state taxes used" to fund Medicaid. If the veto stands, he said, "New York City and New York State are in jeopardy of losing about $2.6 billion and possibly more" (2/13). Greater New York Hospital Association President Kenneth Raske said, "Had it gone the other way, there would have been severe financial problems on the part of hospitals, nursing homes and health services. In a state with 19% uninsured, in a city with 28% uninsured, this is the only vehicle we have to take care of the health needs of the poor" (2/13).
Judge Thomas Hogan of the Washington Federal District Court "ruled ... that it was unconstitutional for Congress to give presidents the unprecedented power to pick and choose which parts of tax or spending laws to eliminate," the Detroit Free Press reports (Epstein, 2/13). The judge relied primarily on a constitutional separation of powers argument, writing, "Because the line-item veto impermissibly violates the central tenets of our system of government, it cannot stand" (Mathis, Houston Chronicle, 2/13). The judge added, "The Line Item Veto Act impermissibly crosses the line between acceptable delegations of rulemaking authority and unauthorized surrender to the president of an inherently legislative function, namely the authority to permanently shape laws and package legislation" (Rodriguez/Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 2/12).
Appeal Is Imminent
Certain Republican senators, who were key supporters of the line-item measure, were vocal in their displeasure with the decision and in their promise to appeal to the Supreme Court. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "said yesterday he believed the law would ultimately be upheld because, 'while no other branch of government can usurp Congress's authority, the Congress itself can delegate that authority'" (Biskupic/Barr, Washington Post, 2/13). Responding to the ruling, President Clinton said, "Although I am disappointed with today's ruling, it is my belief that, ultimately, the line-item veto will be ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court" (release, 2/13). The High Court is expected to put the case on its "fast track" appeals process (New York Times, 2/13).