A minority of Democrats joined in casting a 254-173 vote in favor of allowing the president to pick specific items in spending bills for elimination.

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WASHINGTON — House Republicans voted Wednesday to give President Obama, and his successors, the line-item veto, a constitutionally questionable power over the purse that long has been sought by presidents of both parties.

A minority of Democrats joined in casting a 254-173 vote in favor of allowing the president to pick specific items in spending bills for elimination. Currently, the chief executive must sign or veto spending bills in their entirety.

The main opposition came from members of the Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for putting together the annual spending bills. They argued that the bill upsets the constitutional separation-of-powers balance in favor of the executive branch, and that recent efforts to curtail so-called earmarks in spending bills make the line-item veto unnecessary.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain.

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In 1996, a Republican-controlled Congress succeeded in giving line-item veto authority to another Democratic president, Bill Clinton. He exercised that authority 82 times, and although Congress overrode his veto in 38 instances, the moves saved the government almost $2 billion.

But in 1998, on a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, saying it violated the principle that Congress, and not the executive branch, holds the power of the purse.

Supporters say the bill has been written to meet constitutional standards. They say that while the president can propose items for rescission, or elimination, Congress must vote on the revised spending package and then the president must sign what is in effect a new bill.

The House bill, offered by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the top Democrat on the committee, Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland, stipulates that all savings from eliminated programs go to deficit reduction.

The bill was supported by 57 Democrats. Forty-one Republicans voted against it. In the Washington delegation, Republicans Doc Hastings, Dave Reichert and Cathy McMorris Rodgers joined Democrats Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen and Adam Smith in voting for the bill. Democrats Norm Dicks and Jim McDermott joined Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler in voting against the line-item veto.

Under the proposal, the president would have 45 days within the enactment of a spending bill to send a special message to Congress proposing cuts to any amount of discretionary, or nonentitlement, spending. Legislation to consider the proposed cuts would move quickly to the House and Senate floors for automatic up-or-down votes with no amendments.

The Obama administration, in a statement, said it “strongly supports” passage of the bill, praising it for “helping to eliminate unnecessary spending and discouraging waste.”

Material from The Associated Press is included.

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