Protecting Congress’s Power of the Purse

For many decades, Congress has given up significant control over one of its most fundamental enumerated powers, the power of the purse, by delegating budget authority to the executive branch and engaging in insufficient oversight over federal spending. Across both Democratic and Republican administrations, the executive branch has aggrandized its own power to make spending decisions.

The devolution of Congress’s primacy over the power of the purse has resulted in executive branch abuse, including spending taxpayer funds in ways Congress has not authorized or failing to allocate duly appropriated funds to the programs and activities that Congress has enacted. It also undermines the rule of law when spending judgments are the products of executive fiat and informal decision-making by agencies rather than of a deliberative process reflected in legislation.

This trend prompted Protect Democracy, along with National Taxpayers Union, Project on Government Oversight, R Street Institute, FreedomWorks, and Demand Progress, to launch the Power of the Purse Coalition in July 2020.

We believe Congress can reclaim its power through legislative reforms — pursued both through annual appropriations legislation and standalone statute — and more robust oversight authority to limit executive overreach. Congress must understand and correct, as necessary, how the executive branch implements legislatively-created programs. As executive agencies administer appropriated funds, they must demonstrate that they are managing federal funds only as Congress directs. For example, the executive branch must regularly report how it is using, or proposing to cancel or defer, budget authority.

Reforms to Strengthen Congress’s Power of the Purse

An array of legislative reforms would help Congress reassert its power.

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