"Waste not, want not," said Benjamin Franklin, one of the wisest of our Founding Fathers. An equilibrium obtains on every level when we are in spiritual balance. Balance is as necessary collectively, in our government, as it is individually.
Yet waste and budget bloat has become one of the hallmarks of the government Ben Franklin helped create. How did that happen?
One word: Impoundment.
A concept many have never heard of, impoundment stands at the heart of the question as to why mushroom-shaped federal deficits threaten the very foundations of our republic and have since 1974.
The President used to have the authority not to spend money that Congress had budgeted. All Presidents up until Gerald Ford had the right to simply set aside money rather than spend it.
If the Congress, for example, budgeted $900 million dollars for the Marines, the president could send the Marines $850 million and leave $50 million unspent, thereby paring down the deficit by the same amount. Up through Nixon, Presidents had used impoundment to great result, helping to keep budget deficits lower.
But in 1974, Congress was fed up with what it viewed as President Nixon's overbearing use of the tool. Under the pressure caused by his Watergate scandal, Nixon signed the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 into law. Impoundment as we knew it was no more, and the federal deficit hasn't looked back since. (See chart; gross debt includes both debt held by the public as well as debt held by government agencies, like the Social Security Administration.)
Some are now calling for repeal of the 1974 impoundment restrictions as a simple and constitutional way to return the federal government to that sense of balance it had successful maintained for nearly 200 years.
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