If you’re a parent, see if this scenario sounds familiar to you: Your teenaged kid is going out with friends for the evening and you, as a benevolent believer in a good youthful experience,
tell him or her, “Here’s twenty bucks. That should be plenty to buy a decent dinner, a ticket to the (school) play, and popcorn at intermission. Bring me the leftover change.”
Not really giving it much thought, son or daughter agrees to the terms, exits the house with cash in palm, a skip in their step and a smile on their face only to return later that night with empty pockets. “How much did you have to spare?”, you ask, expecting the youngin’ to produce a dollar bill or two as a reward for trusting them with precious coin in the first place.
Child X replies, “Well, dad, as you know, under Joe Biden’s inflationary presidency, the prices at Fast Food restaurant Y have almost doubled in the past two years, and the school announced a raffle for cool prizes to be determined at the end of the production.”
Translation: “I spent the entire 20 bucks and even dipped into my stash (earned from odd jobs and grandparents’ birthday money) for the evening. If you are the awesome parent you portend to be, you’ll reimburse me for the overage.”
This small-scale example of spending attitudes closely mirrors the situation in government today, where Congress, controlled by long-time members of the DC Uniparty establishment, cut “deals” at budget time to appropriate extraordinary sums of taxpayer funds, a certain percentage of which will never, ever, be spent in a hundred lifetimes of the most adventurous of federal bureaucrats. In other words, there’s a lot of dough out there on balance sheets and in congressional imaginations that basically sits and gathers dust until someone squanders it.
Technically speaking, a federal agency must somehow find a way to blow through every budgetary dollar they’re “given” or risk having some watchful congressperson say, “Well, the ‘Department of Dollar Wasting’ didn’t even use its entire allotment last year. Let’s cut their budget by such-and-such percent.” (Note: If it’s a Democrat congressman (or congresswoman) looking at the numbers, they’d reach the opposite conclusion, that the thrifty agency deserves a budget hike because it must not be serving all its constituents in the name of saving a few pennies on the buck.)
Anyone who’s worked for or with a federal government agency understands there isn’t a human being in existence who comprehends where all the loot goes. Every two or four years, candidates run on a platform of demanding a thorough audit of each branch, but nothing ever seems to come from it. No doubt audits are conducted all the time in government, but an entity so large and disjointed simply isn’t manageable.
Is there something the next president can do about the mess the swamp created and perpetuates? Donald Trump, for one, thinks he has a possible solution to the massive overspending and debt quandary. Hear him out. In a piece titled “Trump Unveils Plan to ‘Squeeze’ US Spending, Cut Deficit”, Janice Hisle reported at The Epoch Times:
“[In a news release last week,] Trump said that, if elected to a second term in office, he would invoke his presidential power to delay or halt expenditures that he considers wasteful, despite congressional approvals. ‘I will use the president’s long-recognized impoundment power to squeeze the bloated federal bureaucracy for massive savings,’ Trump said in the release, which included a video message from the former president. ‘This will be in the form of tax reductions for you. This will help quickly to stop inflation and slash the deficit.’…
“Presidents’ power to curtail congressional spending took a hit after the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (CBA) took effect. That act ‘handcuffed’ the presidential power to halt wasteful spending, Trump said, adding, ‘This is the only way we will ever return a balanced budget: Impoundment.’ Trump is touting the impoundment proposal even though he came under fire for using that power during his tenure as the nation’s 45th president, from 2017-21…
“Trump called impoundment ‘a crucial tool with which to obliterate the Deep State, drain the swamp, and starve the warmongers … and the Globalists out of government.’ ‘With impoundment, we can simply choke off the money,’ Trump said, calling the policy ‘anti-inflation, anti-Swamp, anti-globalist—and it’s pro-growth, pro-taxpayer, pro-American, and pro-freedom.’”
Presto! Spending problem solved, right? The gist of Trump’s impoundment idea is that Congress, when it appropriates dollars to each agency, merely sets a “ceiling” as to how much the bureaucrats can exhaust, but not a “floor” above which they must spend. By this line of reasoning, finding the “floor” is the key to fiscal responsibility.
Or, as Forrest Gump once said, [paraphrasing] “Now Mama said there’s only so much money a man really needs. The rest is just for showin’ off.”
By Gump-ian logic, the federal government has been showing off ever since 1974, when Congress made it mandatory that a president not use his discretion in instructing agencies to spend less than they were allocated by the lawmakers. In so doing, the agency heads act like our not-so-mythical teenager in the above example, taking every penny they’re permitted and spending it, coming back with empty pockets and an outstretched hand (for more) in the process.
Trump’s proposal to bring the budget into balance by impoundment therefore is a good one, though one imagines the notion will inspire a host of lawsuits by liberals who can’t stomach the thought of a Republican president taking the governance into his own hands and not raining cash and checks down on needy benefits seekers.
This is part of the greater fight taking place these days as the Supreme Court considers the scope of the federal administrative state’s power to devise regulations based on statutes that Congress passed and, along the way, establish pseudo-laws of their own. It shouldn’t engender much argument to assert that giving a human being the clout to do something almost guarantees that they’ll use it – and the American citizen loses a heck of a lot of liberty in the translation.
Bureaucracies, federal or otherwise, don’t like to be told what to do. And they certainly are averse to reserving power to the people themselves. Government by expert has become the way of the world, and the ignorant and uneducated citizenry doesn’t know enough to save humanity from itself. Property Rights? Land use freedoms? What is that? How arcane!
Theoretically speaking, if the bureaucracy was to lose some or most of its authority to spend, there wouldn’t be a need to keep them on by the millions. Imagine government actually getting smaller and less intrusive – and Trump commencing the process!
Most conservatives acknowledge that Trump did a plethora of good things in his first term, but never really committed to reducing the size of government. Impoundment is an attractive concept that can be encapsulated and sold to the voters, but is it really possible? Agency honks are conditioned to spending money even if they don’t need to. And it’s not the rank-and-file paper pusher who gets to make the decisions, either.
True story: I had a friend who worked in a Pentagon department that shall go nameless. He was placed in charge of organizing his agency’s Christmas party and provided with a generous budget. Said friend was a responsible guy who’d handled budgets many times in the past and put together a plan for quite a celebration for friends and coworkers – that also came in at a significantly lower cost than what was offered him. He was instructed to spend the excess money anyway, lest the department get cut by the next Congress.
This type of thing is occurring at all levels across the government, and it likely goes on in the states as well, though Hisle’s article indicated that 43 governors have the impound ability. Trump argued that the Founding Fathers never intended for presidents to be restricted in their discretion to spend the government’s money, and he definitely sounds convincing.
In order for Trump’s idea to come to fruition, Congress would likely need to amend the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. The analogous concept of a line-item veto has come up numerous times since the CBA was passed, and the courts have ruled that it was unconstitutional, basically because it usurped Congress’s authority to spend money. From Wikipedia: “[The Court in Clinton v. City of New York] found that exercise of the line-item veto is tantamount to a unilateral amendment or repeal by the executive of only parts of statutes authorizing federal spending, and therefore violated the Presentment Clause of the United States Constitution. Thus a federal line-item veto, at least in this particular formulation, would only be possible through a constitutional amendment. Prior to that ruling, President Clinton applied the line-item veto to the federal budget 82 times.”
Despite the fact that presidents from both parties have sought the line-item veto power, the chances of passing an amendment are slim in today’s political environment. Neither party would risk hamstringing a partisan president by granting every chief the power to select spending items to eliminate. Here’s thinking impoundment is somewhat different – a set amount would be set aside to not spend – but the power would be challenged, and the Court could take years to hear the dispute.
Donald Trump’s plan to reduce federal spending sounds like it could work, but he would need a great deal of cooperation from department heads – and Congress – to see it through. Impoundment is a thought-provoking concept, though Trump might be better off simply by vetoing the bloated bills Congress sends him. One way or another, something has to give.
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