WaPo Frets About Donald Trump’s Plans to Seize Federal Purse Strings During 2nd Term

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Former President Donald Trump may not yet be quite to the point of planning to remodel the Oval Office, but he sure seems to be looking ahead to his second, non-consecutive term in office. It’s prudent, of course, in any enterprise as complex and far-ranging as being president of the United States to have some plans in place well ahead of time. Trump is certainly doing this, and not least among those plans involve him taking aim at the federal budget, and planning to seize some previously-unused powers to do so. The Washington Post writes:

The Constitution gives control over spending to Congress, but Trump and his aides maintain that the president should have much more discretion — including the authority to cease programs altogether, even if lawmakers fund them. Depending on the response from the Supreme Court and Congress, Trump’s plans could upend the balance of power between the three branches of the federal government.
During his first term, Trump was impeached after refusing to spend money for Ukraine approved by Congress, as he pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to provide incriminating evidence about the Biden family. At the time, Trump’s aides defended his actions as legal but largely did not dispute that the president is bound to adhere to budgetary law.

There are some interesting constitutional issues here. All federal spending proposals are required to originate in the House of Representatives. There is always the usual ballyhoo from the legacy media when the president submits a budget, but that budget is only a proposed budget; the House holds the country’s wallet (and much good has that done us.) But the president, who is in charge of the executive branch, has some say in how that money is spent when, well, executing:

“I will use the president’s long-recognized Impoundment Power to squeeze the bloated federal bureaucracy for massive savings,” Trump said in a plan posted last year. “This will be in the form of tax reductions for you. This will help quickly to stop inflation and slash the deficit.”
That pledge could provoke a dramatic constitutional showdown, with vast consequences for how the government operates. If he returns to office, these efforts are likely to turn typically arcane debates over “impoundment” authority — or the president’s right to stop certain spending programs — into a major political flash point, as he seeks to accomplish via edict what he cannot pass through Congress.

Frankly, this probably won’t withstand a court challenge. The last time this was tried on any scale, during the Nixon administration, the federal courts struck down Nixon’s use of the impoundment authority to cease spending on a broad range of programs. It’s more than likely that the same result would be obtained today.

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There is a better way to go about this, one that would depend on Congress codifying it in statute: A line-item veto. That would, however, require Congress to effectively remove from themselves a certain amount of authority over spending, and I think we all know how that vote will turn out.

Donald Trump is right about one thing: The federal debt is out of control. As of this writing, the country’s debt is fast approaching $35 trillionThere is no tax plan, no revenue-gaining proposal that can address this; the only hope the nation has for coming out the other end of this crisis is to cut spending, and not, as the term is too commonly used, to cut the rate of increases in spending. Someone, sooner or later – hopefully sooner – will have to take a meat axe to the federal budget if the country is to get this mess under control. Entire cabinet-level departments and agencies, many of which were never constitutionally authorized in the first place, might have to go.

But that’s not likely to happen without some kind of debt catastrophe forcing Washington’s hand. We have mortgaged our children’s futures, and history will rightly condemn us for that.


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