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The Appropriate Use of the Appropriations Clause

From The Heritage Foundation:

This section is commonly referred to as the Appropriations Clause stipulates that “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,” and effectively grants the legislative branch the influential “power of the purse.”  Today, however, public opinion agrees that Congress has clearly abused this privilege.

Congress’s decades-long spending spree is on everyone’s mind these days.  Most (successful) Republicans ran on a promise to reduce federal spending last November.  The 112th Congress has received a mandate to rein in the federal debt, and restore the health of America’s economy.  This new demand for fiscal responsibility is directly in line with the Founders’ intention for the Appropriations Clause.  As Gary Kepplinger explains in the latest installment in the Constitutional Guidance for Lawmakers series, the Appropriations Clause was not an authorization for exorbitant use of Treasury funds.  Rather, it is included in Section 9 of Article I – the section that enumerates the limitations of the legislative branch.

Explaining this difference is rather like giving a teenager a credit card, and watching their face change as you explain that the money still has to be paid off.  It’s not a blank check – it’s a responsibility.

God Bless America

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It is evident from the state of the country, from the habits of the people, from the experience we have had on the point itself, that it is impracticable to raise any very considerable sums by direct taxation. — Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 12, November 27, 1787

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