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House votes to give Obama limited line-item veto

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives voted to give President Barack Obama a limited line-item veto authority on Wednesday in a rare display of bipartisanship on bitterly divisive spending and budget issues.

The House voted 254-173, with 57 Democrats joining Republicans in favoring the bill, which allows the president to propose elimination of individual items in spending legislation and subject them to a separate, second vote by Congress.

Sponsored by the top Republican and Democrat on the House Budget Committee, the line-item veto bill had strong support from the White House. Many presidents have sought line-item vetoes over the years as a tool to chip away at wasteful spending.

Currently, the president must sign or veto spending bills in their entirety.

A Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 gave Democratic President Bill Clinton a full line-item veto authority that required a two-thirds majority to override and reinsert spending measures.

But the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1998, saying it took spending powers away from Congress.

The bill passed on Wednesday tries to get around the constitutional problem by subjecting vetoed items to a second vote in Congress.

But its fate is unclear in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where a 60-vote majority is often needed. A Democratic Senate aide said there were currently no plans to advance a companion bill co-sponsored by Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Tom Carper that has support from both parties.

SPENDING SCRUTINY

Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee said the veto was a number of steps being taken by the House to "clean up the system on how we spend hard-working taxpayer dollars.

"When we pass large spending bills, we vote on things we're not even necessarily sure we're voting on," Ryan said, adding that it would help discourage frivolous expenditures offered by individual lawmakers.

"If I'm a member of Congress and I want to put something like this in a spending bill, I ought to think twice about whether or not I'm willing to defend that kind of spending in the light of day on an individual vote among my peers."

Unlike a slew of other bills aimed at reforming the budget process offered by House Republicans in recent weeks, the line-item veto measure was co-sponsored by Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

"This is a simple bipartisan measure to provide more transparency we can take when it comes to over $1 trillion in discretionary spending," Van Hollen said. "This is constitutional. Congress has the final say."

Republicans are pushing more than 10 other budget reform bills this year in an effort to seize the election-year high ground and portray themselves as the party better equipped to conserve taxpayer dollars.

(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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