June 03, 2020

Van Hollen, Leahy Introduce Legislation to Defend Congress’s Power of the Purse

Legislation Follows Actions by Van Hollen to Strengthen and Enforce the Impoundment Control Act

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and others introduced the Congressional Power of the Purse Act, legislation to increase fiscal transparency, protect Congress’s central role in spending decisions, and increase enforcement of budget laws. A one-pager on the legislation is available here, and bill text is available here. 

“The Trump Administration has blatantly disregarded the Constitution – and with it, Congress’s power of the purse. This legislation would restore that power and put real transparency and accountability measures on the spending actions of this, and future, Administrations. I’m proud to have worked with Senator Leahy on this legislation and to include provisions that have bipartisan support and will ensure the Executive Branch plays by the rules,” said Senator Van Hollen, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Budget Committee.

This legislation takes serious steps to address this Administration’s efforts to infringe on the Congressional power of the purse, including through the strengthening of the Impoundment Control Act. The legislation includes provisions that Sen. Van Hollen previously introduced as an amendment during the consideration of the Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act in the Senate Budget Committee in November 2019. The Senator’s amendment was adopted by the Committee on a bipartisan basis and was advanced to the Senate floor as part of the full Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act.

Sen. Van Hollen’s amendment strengthened rules to prevent a President from abusing the Impoundment Control Act by withholding funds through their date of expiration, increased disclosure for how the Office of Management and Budget is making funds available to agencies under its apportionment authority, and imposed administrative penalties on officials who violate the Impoundment Control Act. Provisions similar to these are included in the Congressional Power of the Purse Act.

During the consideration of articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Sen. Van Hollen asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review whether withholding security assistance funds to Ukraine violated the Impoundment Control Act. In response, GAO published an independent ruling concluding that the Trump Administration broke the law by withholding these funds. This illegal action by President Trump was in furtherance of a corrupt scheme to coerce Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election on President Trump’s behalf. These funds were illegally withheld using OMB’s apportionment process, and the provisions in Sen. Van Hollen’s amendment and the Congressional Power of the Purse Act would have quickly revealed this illegal act.

Sen. Van Hollen also asked top officials at the GAO about many of the other provisions regarding the Impoundment Control Act that were later included in the Congressional Power of the Purse Act during a Senate Budget Committee hearing on March 12, 2020 and in subsequent questions submitted for the record. GAO is the agency charged with enforcing the Impoundment Control Act, and GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro supported these provisions in his responses to Sen. Van Hollen.

The Senators were joined in introducing the bill by Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). Companion legislation was previously introduced in the House of Representatives by House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.).