As I read this story about Senate Republicans considering giving the President the power to decide which budget cuts to make, I’m reminded of how much this sounds like impoundment. If so, it’s a wonderful idea, as it would restore executive spending power to the nation’s chief executive.
The anti-impoundment act passed with the 1974 budget. Like so much legislation that came out of the immediate post-Watergate era, this attempt to neuter Nixon left long term negative consequences for the nation. From 1803 to 1974 presidents had the power to spend UP to what was budgeted by Congress. They couldn’t spend more, but if circumstances dictated, the could spend less. Thomas Jefferson was the first president to use the power when he decided not to buy boats that Congress had authorized to patrol the nation’s western frontier on the Mississippi River after his purchase of Louisiana made naval riverine patrols unnecessary. For the next seventeen decades presidents underspent their budgets. Even big spending presidents like Lyndon Johnson routinely spent only 95% of what was authorized.
Since 1974, however, every dime is spent. Anyone who has spent a late September working for the federal government knows the rush to spend wastefully as the waning hours of the fiscal year wind down. That is because Presidents can no longer spend less than what was authorized by Congress. No business would dare operate in such a manner. So why does government?
You might remember that two years ago, I advocated that President Obama seize the opportunity to challenge impoundment. My advice still stands. This is a good thing for the nation if the chief executive has it within his power the ability to properly execute a budget.