November 07, 2019

Van Hollen Amendment to Reinstate Congressional ‘Power of the Purse’ Passes Budget Committee in Bipartisan Vote

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has announced that yesterday the Senate Budget Committee passed his amendment to ensure that no president can refuse to carry out programs funded by the Congress. The amendment, applied to the Impoundment Control Act (ICA), would prevent any administration from permanently withholding funds for Congressionally-mandated programs, such as foreign aid to Ukraine.

“The Constitution makes clear – the Congress holds the power of the purse. However, this President has used every trick in the book to try to circumvent that fundamental principle. I was glad that we were able to pass this amendment on a bipartisan basis through the Budget Committee to ensure once and for all that the President follows the laws passed by Congress in funding everything from foreign aid to local grant programs,” said Senator Van Hollen.

Senator Van Hollen’s amendment would prevent the abuse of the ICA for political leverage. The ICA allows the President to withhold funds for up to 45 days after proposing legislation to Congress to rescind those funds, but the funds must be released unless Congress passes that rescission legislation. President Trump has repeatedly considered abusing the ICA’s 45-day withholding rule to withhold funds that are about to expire, thereby cancelling them regardless of whether Congress passes a rescission bill. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), which enforces the ICA, ruled that this would be illegal in 2018, and Senator Van Hollen’s amendment expands on GAO’s legal opinion with rules to ensure that funds are made available for obligation before they expire. Additionally the amendment requires increased disclosure of how the Executive Branch is making funds available to be spent. This would reveal situations where the Executive Branch is withholding funds without telling Congress – as was recently uncovered with Ukrainian foreign aid, which has led to impeachment proceedings against President Trump for trying to leverage foreign assistance for political favors.

The text of Senator Van Hollen’s amendment is here. It was passed by the Committee on a bipartisan vote of 13-8.