The Public Interest

The annual expenditure increment - or how Congress can regain control of the budget

Aaron Wildavsky

Fall 1973

WHY does a President whose administration is responsible for a deficit of over $30 billion in the last fiscal year suddenly appear as a protector of the purse? Why do Congressmen who vote for their share of spending increases express unhappiness with the collective results of their individual actions? How can a President get away with impounding funds when Congress has the power of the purse? The answer to all these questions is the same: because Congress is losing faith in its appropriations process. If Congressmen believed in what they were doing, they would support each other enough to get their way. The President prevails because secretly Congressmen think he is right. Since they do not believe in themselves, they espouse the heresy that it is the President who knows best.

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