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The Disempowered Executive: Reconsidering the Line Item Veto
Gisela Sin
Associate 2018-19

The proposed study of the effects of the line item veto (LIV) is of paramount importance for both practical and scholarly reasons. On the practical side, U.S. states, Latin American countries, and emerging democracies are discussing – and in many cases, embarking – on constitutional reforms that aim to change the powers held by the executive. In Rhode Island, for example, the LIV has been the main issue informing the decision on whether to hold a convention to revise the Constitution. In the international arena, the main controversy in the design of constitutions or the reform of old ones, is whether and how to expand or moderate the degree to which executives influence the law-making process.

Scholars have investigated the LIV at some considerable depth, and an especially prevalent idea is that the LIV empowers executives to shape the budget and advance their agendas, by allowing them to delete sections or words from bills and create what might be considered a new bill.  Contrary to this prevalent view, Professor Sin will argue that the LIV in fact prevents them from reaching favorable agreements with the legislature, contributing to increased gridlock and polarization. Because executives are able to modify bills just before they become laws, there is no way for them to bind themselves to deals made previously with the legislature. Anticipating this reality, legislators lack incentives to bargain extensively with the executive over the shape of bills. As a result, legal frameworks that allow executives to use the LIV reduce the executive’s influence over the lawmaking process. The compromised influence over laws and public goods provision is of crucial importance when we consider that, in opposition to parochial legislative interests, executives usually represent broader and larger constituencies such as a state or country.