Return to Opinion

Tuesday, June 30 -- editorials from the Exponent and Telegram

A victory for the Constitution

Chalk up another one for Sen. Robert C. Byrd. The senator has criticized the line-item veto vehemently, saying it upsets the constitutionally established balance of power within the federal government. Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court concurred.

The court struck down the Line-Item Veto Act of 1996, which gave the president authority to reject funding for specific items in appropriations bills. The reason? It upsets the balance of power.

"This act gives the president the unilateral power to change the text of duly enacted statues," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens in the 6-to-3 majority opinion. Line-item vetoes are "the functional equivalent of partial repeals of acts of Congress," Stevens wrote. "There is no provision in the Constitution that authorizes the president to enact, to amend or to repeal statutes."

What did Sen. Byrd say in a speech at the West Virginia University College of Law last month? That the line-item veto makes the president into a "superlegislator," that it weakens the Constitution, and that "our constitutional structure is increasingly in peril and that it is the people's branch which is in most danger of giving way."

The Supreme Court had more criticism for the line-item veto. "Failure of political will does not justify unconstitutional remedies," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a concurring opinion to last week's ruling.

Scalia was referring to Congress' "failure of political will." Lawmakers couldn't get federal spending under control, so they tried to give the president unconstitutional budget-cutting powers in hopes he could.

What did Sen. Byrd say last month about passage of the Line-Item Veto Act? "We took the easy way out in Congress. We handed the executive branch a power that presidents have been salivating after for years Ñ the line-item veto."

The battle over this issue isn't over yet, of course. Proponents can try to pass a constitutional amendment authorizing line-item vetoes, but they know that will be difficult.

Instead, they plan to pass legislation that would have appropriations bills passed piecemeal. Each spending item in a bill would be passed as a separate measure that could be signed or vetoed by the president.

Fine. Just so line-item veto proponents leave the Constitution alone. Just so they stop trying, as Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., put it, "to bend the Constitution." Because, yes, this court ruling was a vindication for Sen. Byrd, but more importantly, it was a victory for the Constitution.

Tim Langer


New children's insurance program set,

so why won't parents sign up?

On Wednesday, July 1, Medicaid will be expanded and a new state- and federally-funded insurance program will be designed to aid children who don't qualify for Medicaid but aren't otherwise covered by a private health insurance plan. However, it's sad that so many parents likely won't take advantage of it.

It's sad that although many kids are now eligible for the program, they won't be taking part because their parents fail to sign them up, a Bureau of Medical Services official was quoted by the Associated Press last week as saying.

The aim of the program is to serve more than 17,000 children in the first year. More than three times that number may be eligible, the official told the program's board.

We find that projection quite interesting.

West Virginia's plan is part of the new Children's Health Insurance Program that's part of the federal government and is providing $24 billion over a period of five years in order to help states expand coverage to the approximately 10 million uninsured kids throughout the nation.

The Mountain State is scheduled to receive about $23.7 million a year, and that amount is to be matched with $5 million in state funds. Yet the West Virginia Legislature this past session directed the program's board to spend no more than 85 percent of the money. This was to leave enough money to cover extra children in the event more are eligible than state officials predicted.

So in West Virginia, the program board has $24.58 million to spend this year, with a similar amount it can spend in at least four subsequent years.

Here's how the expansion works: Beginning tomorrow, kids between ages 1 and 5 whose families earn up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible to receive Medicaid. Already, children younger than a year old and pregnant women are covered at that income level. The poverty level for a family of four is $16,452.

Up to this point, kids between 1 and 5 whose families make up to 133 percent of the poverty level are covered by Medicaid. The Medicaid expansion will likely cover about 1,700.

The state Department of Health & Human Resources has indicated it plans to put two-page applications for both programs "anywhere people with children go," an assistant to Human Resources Secretary Joan Ohl pointed out. In addition, the application will be on the Internet, whereby the form can be printed out and applicants can mail it in.

However the Bureau of Medical Services' chief financial officer, Phil Lynch, says that despite the best efforts, "We won't get all these kids."

It's a shame that when money has been made available to provide children with better medical insurance coverage -- something many have been clamoring for over the past several years -- people have suddenly come down with an acute case of either shyness or apathy.

--Robert F. Stealey

Careful handgun screening sensible answer to problem

We've said it many times: Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Thus we're against a blanket ban on firearms. Still we must congratulate those who last year kept some 69,000 handguns from getting into the wrong hands.

Proper enforcement of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which took effect in February 1994, meant that more than three out of five sales of these handguns were rejected because the prospective buyer had a felony conviction or was under a felony indictment.

Such convictions or indictments for the would-be handgun purchaser accounted for nearly 62 percent of 1997's rejections, with domestic violence in second place as a reason for denial of sales. Fugitives from justice constituted just short of another 6 percent.

With this, we feel that somebody is on the right track, although the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that the rejections constituted only 2.7 percent of the 2,574,000 applications nationwide for handgun sales during 1997.

The bottom line is: Citizens will never feel safe until even more will be done by responsible agencies to keep weapons out of the hands of suspected individuals without violating the constitutional rights of every citizen.

--Robert F. Stealey