Government without Passing Laws: Congress' Nonstatutory Techniques for Appropriations Control

By Michael W. Kirst | Go to book overview

Preface

When the powers and prerogatives of Congress are discussed, the "power of the purse" is usually mentioned as the most formidable control exercised by Congress. Alexander Hamilton referred to it as a "most complete and effective weapon."1 Despite the fact that the appropriations process is at the heart of the spending power, little analysis has been attempted of a crucial type of appropriations supervision-nonstatutory control operating through hearings, committee reports, floor debates, and informal meetings.

During this century extralegal appropriations techniques have increased markedly in frequency and significance. In 1943 Arthur MacMahon observed that there had been a "significant change of emphasis in the Congressional attitude toward administrative discretion and its control."2 He asserted that the complex tasks government fulfills in the twentieth century require administrative flexibility, and consequently appropriations control through the detailed character of the statute is in many instances unfeasible. MacMahon concluded: "The weight is no longer on the initial insertion of statutory detail or upon judicial review. Rather the legislative body itself seeks to be continuously a participant in guiding administrative conduct and the exercise of discretion. The cords that Congress now seeks to attach to administrative action are not merely the predrawn 'leading strings of statutes' of which Woodrow Wilson wrote in Congressional Government."3

____________________
1
Robert Wallace, Congressional Control of Spending ( Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1960), p. vii.
2
Arthur W. MacMahon, "Congressional Oversight of Administration: The Power of the Purse," Political Science Quarterly, 58 ( 1943), 162.
3
Ibid., p. 162.

-v-

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