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Member Questions of the Week of June 7, 2010

Michael Moody of Brisbane, CA asks: “I keep hearing how the president should be given the line-item veto. Every supporter of President Reagan wanted him to have it. If I remember it correctly, this power was, finally, given to President Clinton, but the Supreme Court took it away, declaring it unconstitutional. Tell me: Is it possible to give the president the line-item veto, or is continuing to talk about it just political posturing, after the Supreme Court has already ruled?”
OUR ANSWER: The Supreme Court did declare the Line-Item Veto Act of 1996 to be unconstitutional. The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, though, still grants the president limited say over federal spending beyond the traditional veto of an entire piece of legislation. Under the Impoundment Control Act, a president can submit a package of spending reductions to Congress. Congress, however, is not required to act on rescission package submissions. The proposal currently under consideration — The Congressional Accountability and Line-Item Veto Act of 2009 — would change that: Congress would have to vote up or down without amendment — and within a specified time frame — on rescission packages. As Heritage expert Alison Fraser testified before the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, this act is a potentially useful tool that could be used to reduce the unprecedented and unsustainable growth in federal spending, especially if it were broadened to include more spending categories. And, its constitutionality is not in question because it would not give the president the power to veto line-item spending without a vote in Congress. Overall, though, it will likely not have the material effect needed on spending. For that, Fraser said, more budget control tools are necessary, including transparency and entitlement budgets.

Vincent Rasulo of East Patchogue, NY asks: “What would happen if the U.S. defaulted on its debt or went bankrupt? Would we be taken over or could we refuse to pay? What is the realistic consequence of our bad debt?”
OUR ANSWER: Realistically, the U.S. wouldn’t file Chapter 13, as a business would, says Heritage budget analyst Brian Riedl. The government could refuse to pay, but no one would be likely to lend to the U.S. again — and the dollar would collapse. In that situation, Riedl said, the president and Congress might seek a foreign bailout, begin to enact tax hikes and spending cuts, or try to work deals out with creditors for principal reductions and payment delays. Of course, the actual odds of default are practically zero. The odds the government would inflate its way out — just run the printing presses — are quite low, too, because such an approach would also end any lending to the U.S. The most likely scenario, then? Very painful tax hikes and spending cuts. To find out just how much the government spends right now, check out Heritage’s recently released Federal Spending by the Numbers.

Janet Smith of Woodbridge, VA asks: “Does the new health care bill affect my rights of conscience?”
OUR ANSWER: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is deficient in the area of conscience protections, according to this WebMemo by Heritage expert Chuck Donovan. The bill as adopted is reasonably good regarding such protections in the context of end-of-life care — an area of concern, given that at least two states permit physician-assisted suicide, and many health care practitioners strongly object to being forced to cooperate in such a step. Another bit of good news is that no qualified health care plan can be required to cover abortion as an “essential” benefit under PPACA, and no health insurance companies may discriminate against a health care facility or provider because that facility or provider is unwilling “to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortion.” The law does not, however, prevent the federal and state governments from the practice of such discrimination. Efforts to include the Hyde-Weldon conscience protection law in the bill succeeded in the House but failed in the Senate. And, while President Obama signed in March an executive order that attempts to apply conscience protections and abortion funding limits to the full text of PPACA, judicial rulings for the past 35 years have made it clear that funding of elective abortions in federal programs cannot be barred without the kind of direct ban that Congress failed to include in many parts of PPACA. More Congressional representatives might have pushed for explicit conscience protections if they had listened to their constituents: In March 2009, 87 percent of respondents to a national poll wanted Congress to ensure “healthcare professionals in America are not forced to participate in procedures and practices to which they have moral objections,” and a January 2010 Quinnipiac survey found that 67 percent of Americans oppose public funding of abortion. To fix the just-passed bill in this area, Rep. Joe Pitts has introduced HR 5111, which addresses both the matter of abortion funding and the right of health care providers to be free from discrimination based on their decision not to offer coverage of abortions. We understand that additional legislation regarding broader issues of conscience rights is likely to be introduced before the end of this Congressional session, especially given the problems exacerbated by the passage of PPACA.

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