President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 25, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters) Bipartisan measures could force the executive branch to be transparent and accountable in its use of taxpayer dollars.
If you’re measuring in dollars, the stakes for congressional oversight of the executive branch have never been higher. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the federal government committed or disbursed $3.6 trillion of COVID relief between last April and this April, with $2.3 trillion of enacted aid still left to be doled out. Just before Memorial Day weekend, President Biden proposed a historically large $6 trillion budget, which includes his American Jobs and American Families plans. While such documents never become law exactly as proposed, they reflect a new reality: Congress has never approved so much spending in so little time, and it is likely to continue debating ideas with record-setting price tags into the distant future. Now is the perfect time for legislators to reassert their control of the purse strings and restore the proper constitutional balance of power.
There are now several measures before Congress that would allow lawmakers of both parties to ensure that the executive branch is releasing funds as Congress directs it to. They provide more transparency for taxpayers, more protections for government watchdogs, and more enforcement mechanisms for lawmakers. Many of them were introduced by Democrats, but many of them also have Republican cosponsors or draw from Republican proposals introduced in previous Congresses. And while Democrats introduced them to push back against President Trump’s abuses of executive power, these are responses to accruals of executive power over multiple administrations of both parties — and will guard against the abuses of future Democratic and Republican presidents alike.
Take the Congressional Power of the Purse Act (CPPA), which was first introduced in 2020. It has three parts. The first ensures that money that Congress appropriates is spent in a timely, proper, and transparent manner. When it was proposed in the Senate Budget Committee by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) during the Trump administration, as
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