A story in this week’s edition of The New Republic points out an interesting policy contradiction between John McCain and his top adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, on the line item veto. McCain, who is well known for his rhetorical crusade against earmarks and ‘pork barrel spending,’ had this to say about the controversial practice of allowing the top executive to scratch a single item off a spending or budget bill:
I will seek a constitutionally valid line-item veto to end the practice [of earmarking] once and for all.
It’s great that McCain is able to give such a straight talk statement on the line item veto, but maybe McCain should have checked in with Holtz-Eakin before he spoke so fervently on the record. As McCain’s chief policy strategist and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, Holtz-Eakin has a long history of opposing the line item veto as an ineffective way to reduce spending and balance budgets:
With few exceptions, simply granting the governor a line-item veto has little or no effect on spending over the long term [...] over time, in the hands of Republicans and Democrats alike, the line-item veto fails to cut spending. [New York Times, 2/88]
Analysis of a rich set of state budget data indicates that long run budgets are not altered by an item veto [...] These results suggest that adoption of the line item veto, in general, is unlikely to reduce the size of the federal government. [NBER, 3/88]
I don’t think there’s any evidence that this, in itself, is a powerful enough weapon to alter the path of spending. [CBPP, 3/06]
So what’s the problem here? Do McCain and Holtz-Eakin just disagree on this issue? Or did McCain, who admittedly knows little about the economy, forget to have a conversation with is top economic adviser about this contentious topic before taking another one of his bold, maverick stances?