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Line-item squeals are no surprise

Wasn't it Charlie Brown who said, "I love mankind. It's people I can't stand"? Some GOP lawmakers are feeling a little like that. They support in principle giving the president the line-item veto as a tool of fiscal discipline, even voting to do so. But now that President Clinton has actually wielded the tool, killing 38 projects in a military-construction bill, many of the same lawmakers are apoplectic.

Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, campaigned as a line-item proponent, but because the president nixed a $12.7 million Army Reserve project in his state, Bennett is "prepared to reconsider my position." Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, lost no pork in the Yukon but feels the pain of his colleagues from the Lower 48. Surveying the carnage wrought by the Clinton veto - gone, for example, is an $8.5 million, 24-bay truck-and-tank wash in Fort Irwin, Calif. - Stevens may back a line-item repeal if Clinton persists in an "arrogant use of power."In the House, where a line-item veto was part of the Contract With America, the caterwauling is more measured, but still audible. House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., threatens an override of the recent vetoes if the president's new power "continues to be used so poorly."

Well, you don't expect lawmakers to jump for joy when their add-ons are thrown from the budget like hobos off a train. But the current reaction is overwrought, especially by members of a party that long decried profligate Democratic spending and prescribed the line-item veto as a solution. Yes, you can quibble with the White House's judgment, but the facts are that Democratic districts also took hits, that many of the axed projects will resurface in future Pentagon budgets, and that Clinton allowed 107 add-ons (74 percent of the total) to survive.

The line-item veto was designed to produce some political pain for individual Congress members in exchange for fiscal gain by the nation. In its first major exercise, things worked about that way. GOP squeals are part of the evidence.