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

By Michael W. Kirst | Go to book overview

I.
The Proper Role of the Appropriations Committee

The constitutional powers of the Congress enable it to exercise a considerable degree of control over the administration of laws. Congress can establish the form of executive organization and control appointments. It can limit administrative action by demanding a legislative veto or investigate and audit executive performance. But it is not the intention of this study to analyze the varied aspects of Congressional oversight of administration. The focus here is on the most important oversight technique -- the power of the purse.

The House of Representatives' review of both revenue and spending was lodged in the Ways and Means Committee until 1865. From 1865 to 1921 the locus and effectiveness of fiscal control was replete with developments. The burdensome workload of handling both revenue and expenditure bills led to the creation in 1865 of a Committee on Appropriations. The House members, however, did not accept the centralized dominant control of a single Appropriations Committee and from 1879 to 1885 dispersed the purse power to several legislative committees.

The result was a loss of co-ordinated expenditure control and a tendency for the legislative committees to be captives of the departmental clienteles. A major move toward effective oversight occurred in 1920 when a single committee on appropriations was recreated. This House committee like its Senate counterpart has become one of the most powerful committees in the Congress. Our concern is with the various techniques to control the executive that these appropriations committees have developed.

There are several techniques that come under the broad category of statutory appropriations controls. One distinct

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