Trump’s effort to ‘rescind’ spending in COVID/government funding bill faces hurdles

In the President’s signing statement, accompanying his signature of the COVID aid/government funding plan, he points out he wants “far less wasteful spending and more money going to the American people in the form of $2,000 checks per adult and $600 per child.”

Under the Budget Act of 1974, the President is required to submit a “budget request” to Congress in the winter. Many of the spending requests flagged by the President were consistent with his own budget request to Capitol Hill earlier this year.


But, the President goes on to say he is “demanding many rescissions under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. The Act provides that, ‘whenever the President determines that all or part of any budget authority will not be required to carry out the full objectives or scope of programs for which it is provided, or that such budget authority should be rescinded for fiscal policy or other reasons (including termination of authorized projects or activities for which budget authority has been provided), the President shall transmit to both Houses of Congress a special message’ describing the amount to be reserved, the relevant accounts, the reasons for the rescission, and the economic effects of the rescission. 2 U.S.C. § 683.”


Like the President’s budget request, a rescission is a “budget-cutting request.” Rescissions bills aren’t unheard of. But the administration must now send to Capitol Hill a list of items that it wants to be cut. It’s then up to Congress to advance a potential rescissions bill. And, with only a few days left in this Congress, such a request is nearly out of the question. It’s possible Congress could address the proposal before Mr. Trump leaves office January 20. But doubtful.

Congress does not have to vote on a rescissions bill and often ignores such requests. But, technically, an administration can only withhold (impound, thus the name of the act) funds for a month and a half. If Congress doesn’t act on the rescission request, the Treasury has to spend the money.

Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution gives Congress ultimate control over the federal “purse.” It says “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

This is why a “line-item veto” is unconstitutional at the federal level. Congress approved the Line Item Veto Act of 1996 to curb some of the type of spending flagged by Mr. Trump. In other words, Congress could pass a bill. A President could sign it, but veto specific “lines,” not the entire bill.

In 1998, the Supreme Court found the line-item veto unconstitutional in Clinton v. New York. Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution includes the “presentment clause.” It states that once the House and Senate have passed a bill it shall “be presented to the President of the United States. If he approves, he shall sign it, but if not, he shall return it, with his Objections.”

In other words, the “presentment clause” gives the President a binary choice. Either he can sign a bill or veto a bill. He can’t just veto “part” of a bill. That would be a “line-item veto.”

And so, Presidents, like President Trump, are stuck. All they can do is ASK Congress to potentially rescind certain spending, via a rescissions bill. Otherwise, when it comes to spending bills, it’s take it or leave it for the President.

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