November 21, 2014


Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution states:

“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”

This is the “Power of the Purse” clause, which Article I, Section 7, Clause 1 makes clear is exclusively held by the House of Representatives:

“All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.”

Actually, there are two “powers of the purse” – to spend money or to deny its being spent.  For the US Federal Government to spend any money, one single dime on anything, three things need to happen in this order:  1) an Appropriation must be authorized and passed by the House, 2) such Appropriation must then be passed by the Senate (any differences in the House and Senate versions must be reconciled via joint agreement and passage), and finally 3) be signed into Law by the President.

To deny the federal government the authority to spend any money, one single dime on any program or activity, only one thing needs to happen:  the House does not pass an Appropriation for it.  Period.  Neither the Senate, nor the President, nor the Supreme Court, nor any federal agency secretary or bureaucrat, has the constitutional authority to spend one single dime by themselves, without a majority of the House giving it to them.  That is the power of the purse.

There is, however, a problem – a legal problem, not just a psychological one, such as Congressistas being spendaholics or too cowardly to refuse the begging of various constituencies for handouts.

This problem is epitomized by the Senate Republicans’ inability to force Harry Reid to pass an annual budget, even though there is a law requiring the Senate to do so.  Thanks to Reid’s blocking all attempts, the Senate hasn’t passed a budget since April, 2009, which clearly violates federal law – the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

So how come Reid can’t be prosecuted?  Why can’t the Senate Pubs take legal action against him?  As Byron York explains, “the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 doesn’t have an enforcement mechanism.  Lawmakers are required by law to pass a budget each year by April 15, but there’s no provision to punish them, or even slightly inconvenience them, if they don’t.”

So we arrive at what may well be the single most important question to ask in America today.

Given that the current President of the United States seems determined to bypass the House’s appropriation authority and spend gigantic sums on whatever programs he wants or enforcing whatever Executive Orders he issues, is there an enforcement mechanism for his violating the power of the purse clauses in the Constitution?

The answer is yes.  There is a federal law that specifically codifies the power of the purse clauses, and provides specific punishment for their violation by any “officer or employee of the United States government.”

This punishment is “suspension from duty without pay or removal from office,” and up to two years in federal prison.

This Federal law is:  The Antideficiency Act. The original version was enacted into law in 1884.  Although revised occasionally since to make its meaning clear in terms of “modern” language, its purpose remains: to be the enforcement mechanism implementing Article I, Sections 7 & 9.  It was last revised during the Reagan presidency, and is codified as Title 31 of the United States Code (31 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1342, 1349, and 1350).

§1341 states:

1) An officer or employee of the United States Government or of the District of Columbia government may not-

(A) make or authorize an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation;

(B) involve either government in a contract or obligation for the payment of money before an appropriation is made unless authorized by law;

Continue Reading Next Pages: | Next →