Donald Trump is vowing to upend the decades-old law limiting the ability of presidents to unilaterally withhold federal spending if he is elected to another term, setting up a potential constitutional clash with profound implications for the budget and basic workings of American government.
In a video reviewed by Semafor ahead of its release, Trump says he will attempt to bring a court challenge to overturn the Impoundment Control Act — a 1974 law that governs the process presidents must use to either delay outright cancel pots of government spending. In the video, Trump promises that he will “order every federal agency to begin identifying large chunks of their budgets that can be saved through efficiencies and waste reduction using Impoundment” on day one of his presidency, effectively claiming the right to slash the federal budget at will.
“When I return to the White House, I will do everything I can to challenge the Impoundment Control Act in court, and if necessary, get Congress to overturn it,” says in the video. “We will overturn it.”
Democrats accused Trump of violating the Impoundment Control Act when he quietly froze aid to Ukraine without notifying lawmakers, a move that played a role in his first impeachment. The White House argued at the time that Trump was operating within his authority — but the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded in a report that he had broken the law, which requires the president to alert Congress before they attempt to pause any spending.
Under the law, which was put in place after President Richard Nixon attempted to impound tens of billions of dollars, presidents are permitted to defer federal spending as long as the money goes out within the fiscal year. They can only cancel spending entirely if Congress votes to approve the move.
Trump’s aides say that his impeachment battle is not the driving factor behind his interest in this issue, instead pointing instead to the sprawling omnibus budget bills passed during various administrations as examples of unaccountable government spending he wants to curb.
“Reasserting the president’s historic Impoundment authority will also restore critical negotiating leverage with Congress to keep spending under control,” Trump says in the video, in which he also suggests the move will allow his administration “to obliterate the deep state, drain the swamp, and starve the warmongers … and the globalists out of government.” He also promises not to cut spending on Medicare, Social Security, or defense.