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Yarmuth & Womack Respond to GAO’s Legal Opinion Confirming Congress’s Power of the Purse

Dec 10, 2018

Washington, D.C.—House Budget Committee Chairman Steve Womack (AR-3) and Ranking Member John Yarmuth (KY-3) released the following statements after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) today announced its legal opinion confirming Congress’s power of the purse and its central role in decisions to cancel appropriated funding, also referred to as rescissions. Womack and Yarmuth wrote to the GAO in October requesting the opinion.

“Article I grants the power of the purse to Congress,” said Chairman Womack. “Today’s GAO opinion reaffirms that most essential responsibility.”

“Today’s legal opinion is an important confirmation that the power of the purse lies with the people’s representatives in Congress,” said Ranking Member Yarmuth. “Funding decisions are some of the most important we make in Congress, and any backdoor attempts to usurp that authority are unacceptable.”

Under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (ICA), the President can propose to rescind funding previously approved by Congress.  This generally starts a hold on that funding for 45 days to allow Congress time to consider the request. If Congress does not pass a rescission bill during that 45-day window, the President’s request is considered denied and that funding must be spent.

The rescissions process was used for the first time in nearly two decades this year, and questions arose over whether that funding can be withheld for the entire 45-day period if the funds are set to expire before the end of that period. The GAO’s opinion confirms that these funds cannot be withheld through their expiration date, ensuring that Congress maintains its Constitutional authority over spending decisions.