May 8, 2018
The Constitution empowers Congress with the powers of the purse to appropriate funding for the federal government. Prior to 1974, Presidents had the authority to “impound” or not spend monies appropriated by Congress. In 1974, in response to what Congress viewed as President Nixon’s aggressive use of his impoundment authority, Congress passed the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 and enacted it into law over President Nixon’s veto.
This act has many significant provisions including the creation of the House and Senate Budget Committees, the formation of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and establishing the budget reconciliation process. The law also took away the President’s authority to impound federal funds. However, it did grant the President the power to request the rescission of previously appropriated funds.
The President’s rescission authority is significant because the President can request Congress to terminate funding of any unspent funds at any federal agency regardless of the year the monies were appropriated. The power also extends to unspent funds in mandatory spending federal programs.
What perhaps is the most powerful aspect of this tool is that it is privileged in the Senate meaning it cannot be delayed or stopped by filibuster and is subject to limited debate (10 hours). Moreover, Congress does not have to adopt or reject the entire package of proposed rescissions. Rather, Congress can pick and choose which accounts it wants to pull back funding from.
Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton have all successfully used their rescission authority to pull back federal spending. Today President Trump submitted to Congress a request to rescind $15.4 billion in unspent monies. This is the largest rescission package sent to Congress.
Congress has 45 days to approve the rescission request. During this time, the President can and has in this instance instructed agencies to withhold these monies until Congress acts.
The outlook for this package is uncertain. Some Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have expressed their reservations about moving a rescission package. However, with its privileged status, limited debate and a simple majority vote requirement there is a possibility that Congress could act on this package or a portion of it.
Rich Meade, a Vice Chairman at Prime Policy Group and Chair of the firm’s Healthcare Practice has over 25 years of experience in legislative, regulatory, political and public relations strategy. He previously served as Chief of Staff to the House Budget Committee. Rich has helped his clients navigate many complex regulatory and legislative landscapes to achieve many public policy successes including transitioning to a new Medicare payment and quality system, and developing, with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), a health information exchange (HIE) on the Nationwide Health Information Network (NwHIN).