Trump plans to grab the power of the purse from Congress

The Constitution gives the power to allocate federal funding to Congress, but Donald Trump isn’t about to let that stop him. Trump has made no secret that he wants to restore presidential impoundment, a power that has been severely limited since 1974, and seize the power of the purse away from Congress.

As The Washington Post reports, Trump’s ambitions go beyond just bringing back a power that was limited after Richard Nixon abused it to shut down programs he didn’t like, such as blocking billions Congress had authorized for subsidized housing. Presidential impoundment is both a sword and a scalpel, capable of eliminating entire departments or taking out individual programs.

Trump has already made it clear he means to purge the federal government, dismantle existing agencies, and replace career federal employees with an army of supporters loyal only to Trump. He’s also determined to turn the Department of Justice and FBI into agents of his retribution, allowing him to round up and imprison political opponents. And those are just a few of the choice pieces of destruction laid out by Trump and his cohorts in their 887-page Project 2025 playbook.

But even with Republicans in Congress shedding every member not committed to the MAGA cause, Trump still would not have every lever of power in his tiny hands so long as Congress can determine the spending. So he wants to end that control.

“Presidential Impoundment”—refusing to spend money authorized by Congress—was a power that had been exercised by many presidents going back to Thomas Jefferson, but most instances involved small amounts and concerns over funds that were duplicated or in conflict. It wasn’t until Nixon began treating the impoundment power as a kind of line-item veto, blocking tens of billions from programs that didn’t fit his agenda, that Congress took action to limit this power by passing the Impoundment Control Act of 1974.

Ending this act has become part of the right-wing agenda to create a powerful authoritarian president. The Federalist Society insists that the 1974 act ended the president’s “constitutional spending authority,” though no such authority exists in the Constitution. Bringing back impoundments is also part of Project 2025.

Trump already attempted to violate the Impoundment Control Act during his first time in office. That includes the events leading up to his first impeachment when he illegally impounded funds that had been authorized for Ukraine.

In 2023, Trump gave a speech making clear that he wants to end controls on impoundments to strangle any program he doesn’t like.

“I will then use the president’s long-recognized Impoundment Power to squeeze the bloated federal bureaucracy for massive savings,” Trump said in a video address now posted to his campaign site. 

Unlimited use of the Impoundment Act goes well beyond even the authority of a line-item veto. It would allow Trump to halt funds at any time to inflict pain or apply pressure. It’s easy to see how this program might be used to force a weakened Congress into signing on to legislation provided by Trump, to slice out programs that had fallen out of favor, or to destroy whole departments. It’s hard to see how Congress could negotiate any kind of meaningful legislation when Trump could come in and selectively block funding. 

It’s not hard to see how this could be an extension of Trump’s ability to punish his enemies, especially in the wake of calls to “defund” the entire state of New York following Trump’s felony conviction on 34 counts in a Manhattan courtroom. It’s an idea that seems laughable … until you add impoundment.

A limited presidential impoundment ability was arguably beneficial over the nation’s first 200 years. However, it was unsupported by anything in the Constitution and lost in the only case in which it was directly challenged in the Supreme Court. That doesn’t mean that it would lose now, with a Republican-dominated court that seems anxious to hand Trump all the authority he wants. 

An unlimited presidential impoundment authority isn’t a “budgetary issue.” It’s full control of the entire government. Which is exactly why it’s on Trump’s agenda.


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