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Chairman Yarmuth’s Opening Statement at Virtual Hearing on Reasserting Congress’ Power of the Purse

Apr 29, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C.Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Chair of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s virtual hearing on the importance of reasserting Congress’ power of the purse and how Chairman Yarmuth’s Congressional Power of the Purse Act will better empower Congress to protect its constitutional charge. Remarks as prepared and video are below:

Exactly one year ago yesterday, I introduced the Congressional Power of the Purse Act. I said it was an “important step in restoring Congress’ constitutional spending authority and reinforcing the foundations of our democracy: a responsibility that should be embraced by both sides of the aisle.” Today we are in a new Congress, with a new Administration that has taken steps to return to previous, longstanding norms. We have a reinvigorated OMB led by an Acting Director with firsthand experience fighting to protect Congress’ spending authority. And we are using this Committee’s first full hearing to again examine the importance of safeguarding Congress’ constitutional authority and the need for the Congressional Power of the Purse Act. I believe in this good government legislation, and I am fully committed to pursuing its reforms regardless of who is in the White House.

Our Founders knew that money – and who controls it – is fundamental to a democratic government. They also knew that, with elections every two years, Congress would be the branch most accountable to the people. So they gave us the power of the purse as a critical check on the President.

Congress has exercised this power by enacting foundational laws—like the Antideficiency Act and the Impoundment Control Act—and updating them as challenges to its authority arose. To help protect and enforce its spending decisions, Congress established the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, which, as we all know, is charged with investigating and reporting on violations of budget and appropriations laws.

However, Congress’ ability to exercise its singular constitutional authority has become increasingly challenged by an Executive Branch that has sought to seize control of the nation’s purse for itself. Presidents and agencies of both parties have pushed the boundaries of their delegated spending powers, exploiting secrecy, a lack of reporting requirements, and limitations on enforcement to push their own agenda and sidestep Congress. Decades of this purposeful infringement on Congress’ power of the purse proves that Congress cannot rely on interbranch comity and nonbinding norms in the face of an emboldened Executive Branch.

For our government to work, the American people need to know that when their representatives in Congress pass a funding bill and it is signed into law, the Executive Branch will follow the law and ensure their hard-earned tax dollars go where their representatives intended. For Congress to remain a co-equal branch of government and live up to our constitutional charge, we must reassert Congress’ control over spending and ensure we are the ones holding the purse strings.

That is why I introduced the Congressional Power of the Purse Act.

My legislation increases transparency by requiring the Executive Branch to make apportionments, along with legal justifications and opinions, publicly available. This helps to prevent arbitrary and self-serving decision-making, promote legal compliance, and end the use of expansive legal interpretations to exert undue influence on spending decisions. By making apportionments public, Congress and the American people can see exactly how federal resources are being used.

The bill also increases accountability by improving and expanding controls under the Antideficiency Act and Impoundment Control Act. It strengthens and expedites GAO’s ability to obtain information from agencies and requires the Executive Branch to report to Congress on all violations of the ADA and ICA identified by GAO, a requirement that is unbelievably absent from current law. My bill also authorizes administrative discipline for government employees responsible for violating the law, serving not only as an important deterrent but also as a tool to empower government employees to push back on political pressure to break the law.

Transparency, accountability, checks and balances—these tenets are at the core of our constitutional republic and a key component of our responsibility as Members of Congress.

A commitment to good government cannot ebb and flow depending on who controls the levers of power. Our Committee has issued reports, held hearings, written to officials in both the Trump and Biden Administrations, and introduced legislation as part of our work to safeguard Congress’ spending authority.

We continue this important work with our hearing today. Today presents another opportunity to examine our current framework of fiscal laws, its potential shortfalls, and why Congress must take legislative action to safeguard its constitutional authority, including passing the Congressional Power of the Purse Act.

We have assembled an expert panel of witnesses to help us, and I look forward to this important discussion.

 

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