Can the US President Spend Less Than Budgeted?

Title pretty much says it all. Constititionally, could the US President do a unilateral spending freeze and spend less on programs than allocated by Congress in the budget?

No. That is called “executive impoundment” or something similar, I believe, and was outlawed by a SCOTUS decision in the Nixon administration.

I have no cites, but I’m sure some legal eagle will be along to give that info to you…

Can and has. Money just doesn’t get spent. This happens all the time even with the best of motives. That makes it easy to ensure that delays get built in when nobody wants the recipients to receive.

Practically speaking, however, it doesn’t work or last. Budgets have constituencies, i.e. every penny that is allocated is eagerly awaited by the people, places or things on which it is to be spent. They can put on enough pressure to get the money spent most of the time. And it also destroys the president’s relations with Congress. Why should they pass any of the spending he wants ever again?

The country is run by both the executive and legislative branches. Any attempt to make one dominant over the other is doomed to long-term failure and backlash.

Close. Wikipedia: Impoundment It wasn’t the Supremem Court, it was Congress, which passed an Act in 1974 limiting the ability of the executive to impound funds.

One more thing the Nixon Administration managed to screw the future administrations out of. :smack:

I’m confused, since this was Congressional legislation, why do you frame it the fault of the Nixon Administration?

The way the relationship between Congress and the Nixon administration worked, Nixon would use an executive power to piss off Congress, and Congress would retaliate by stripping him of that power.

Previous presidents had used impoundment sporadically and judiciously, but Nixon raised it to an art form. In his most egregious act, he announced just after the 1972 election that he would refuse to enforce amendments to the Clean Water Act that Congress had passed over his veto, by refusing to spend any money on them. He had unilaterally granted himself not only a line-item veto, but an absolute veto which wasn’t subject to Congressional override.

The House Judiciary Committee considered impoundment abuse as a possible ground for impeachment, but ultimately decided they had a better case elsewhere. As noted above, Congress restricted the practice, in retaliation against Nixon, in 1974. In the decades since, more and more spending has taken the form of “entitlements”, which would be virtually impossible for a President to impound even if he wished to do so.

Another angle to add: the President doesn’t have to spend the money, but Congress can rescind it, i.e. pass legislation that returns the funds to the Treasury (presumably to give to someplace else).

Happens all the time in the Defense budget-- programs don’t get their particular fiscal year’s worth of money on contract in time, so Congress ends up removing that money to use for other purposes (usually to fund other Defense budget overruns, but in reality, the money can be used for any other purpose).