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Updated Jun 21, 2023, 7:22am EDT
politics

Trump unveils his plans to defund the ‘deep state’

REUTERS/Amr Alfik
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The News

Donald Trump unveiled another sweeping piece of his plans to slash federal spending and defund the “deep state” on Tuesday, effectively claiming vast, unchecked powers to shape the government.

In a new video, first shared with Semafor, the former president vowed to scrap pieces of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, the once obscure federal law he was accused of violating when he froze funding Congress had earmarked for Ukraine. That move helped lead to his first impeachment.

The statute forces the executive branch to spend money Congress approves. But it also puts in place rules governing how the president can delay — or “impound” — federal funding for specific programs, or permanently rescind cash from them with permission from lawmakers. Congress passed it after President Richard Nixon attempted to scrap tens of billions in federal spending on his own, in what was widely seen as an abuse of his powers.

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On Tuesday, Trump vowed to challenge the law’s constitutionality in court, and in doing so effectively reserve the right to unilaterally cut the federal budget with the stroke of a pen.

“Bringing back impoundment will give us a crucial tool with which to obliterate the Deep State, Drain the Swamp, and starve the Warmongers,” he said in the video. “We can simply choke off the money.”

Trump appears to be promising deep cuts across much of the government. In a fact sheet accompanying its policy rollout and reviewed by Semafor, he promises to “direct federal agencies to identify portions of their budgets where massive savings are possible” using impoundment, while exempting Medicare, Social Security, and defense spending.

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It’s not at all obvious that Trump’s impoundment plan would hold up in court, however. The fact sheet also noted how past presidents used impoundment before Congress reined it in, setting up an argument that seemed tailor made for the Supreme Court’s originalists. But any effort by Trump to revive the tool would run into questions about whether the president was usurping Congress’s power over the purse.

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The View From The Budget Wonks

Whether or not it would survive legally, longtime budget hands told Semafor that they found Trump’s proposal deeply troubling.

“The worry here is the abusability of this,” Bobby Kogan, senior director of federal budget policy at the Center for American Progress, told Semafor. “The worry here is it allows the president to act by fiat to completely ignore laws that the president doesn’t think are useful.”

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G. William Hoagland, a former Senate GOP budget aide who is now at the Bipartisan Policy Center, was blunter, calling Trump’s proposal “ridiculous.”

“I’m so upset with this,” he said. “I guess I’m just flabbergasted by his lack of understanding of the Constitution.”

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Room for Disagreement

Trump’s allies view the matter quite differently.

Russell Vought, who ran Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, has for years been a proponent of ridding the presidency of the guardrails put into place back in 1974. He told Semafor that Trump’s latest policy pitch is “enormously important,” and that the idea of bringing back impoundment “informed a lot of our strategies in the last administration as we were moving towards a second term.”

(He declined to say whether he’d spoken to Trump recently about the new policy plan, but noted that the former president is aware he’s “a huge supporter of this.”)

Reviving impoundment is just one of the ways Trump is promising to reshape the federal bureaucracy, or the so-called “deep state” he believes undermined his last administration. He’s also proposed changes to federal civil service rules that would make it easier to fire career employees who have a role in policymaking, which he began trying to implement at the end of his first term.

Vought said the impoundment plan represented several years of Trump’s thinking on “how to use the purse strength to deal with the deep state.”

“I don’t think now’s the time to be talking about middle ground,” he added. “I think now’s the time to be talking about the paradigm shift.”

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