We need Obama’s help to balance the budget

It is not hopeless. The locus of hope, however, lies with the Executive, a word at least nominally associated with responsibility. In an article on these pages recently (“Time for Emergency Economic Reform”), a successful political executive, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, identified the sine-qua-non reform to sustain spending discipline: presidential impoundment power.

However you define the idea—impoundment, rescission, the line-item veto—it is the power of a president or governor to zero out some of the spending pile that a legislature dumps on the front lawn. It is executive pushback against wretched legislative excess.

“Presidents once had the authority,” Mr. Daniels wrote, “to spend less than Congress made available through appropriation. On reflection, nothing else makes sense.”…

Here is a list of U.S. presidents and public figures who have used or supported the impoundment power: Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, JFK, LBJ, Bill Clinton, the Bushes, John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore, Pat Buchanan, Jeb Hensarling, Russ Feingold, Joe Lieberman, Judd Gregg, and not least both Paul Ryan, the new House Budget chairman, and Barack Obama.

This crucial executive ballast does not exist mainly for two reasons.