Over several decades, the House and Senate have ceded growing amounts of power, authority, and flexibility over federal tax and spending matters to the executive branch. For advocates and defenders of limited government, this is a deeply concerning trend. While the Founding Fathers intended for hundreds of elected representatives to steer and oversee the use of taxpayer dollars and made those officials accountable to their constituents through regular elections, recent decades have seen a single elected person (the president) and thousands of bureaucrats under his authority make decisions originally intended for Congress.'
This problem, an abdication of congressional authority and control over the vaunted "power of the purse," is an issue that Democrats tend to care about more when a Republican is president and that Republicans tend to care about more when a Democrat is president. No matter who is president in 2021, Congress needs to come together now to enact bipartisan legislation that reasserts its primacy over the taxpayers’ purse strings.
This "power of the purse" problem may sound lofty, but the issue may be more familiar to people when they hear of bipartisan examples in recent years. For instance, many observers believed President Trump overstepped executive authority when he directed funds toward building the border wall without clear congressional approval. Similarly, many believe President Barack Obama subverted the will of Congress by funding Obamacare’s cost-sharing reduction program without an appropriation. This same tension is demonstrated in executive branch clashes with inspectors generaland congressional oversight committees. These conflicts can occur over routine matters or involve some of the most politically contentious issues of recent decades.
Luckily for Congress, lawmakers are not limited simply to expressing their concern, objection, or outrage in these situations. There are bipartisan blueprints for ensuring that future presidents follow congressional intent on federal tax and spending measures.