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Changes During The Nixon Administration

The history of accepting or resolving impoundments broke down during the Nixon administration for several reasons. First, President Nixon impounded much greater sums than had previous presidents, proposing to hold back between 17 and 20 percent of controllable expenditures between 1969 and 1972. Second, Nixon used impoundments to try to fight policy initiatives that he disagreed with, attempting to terminate entire programs by impounding their appropriations. Third, Nixon claimed that as president, he had the constitutional right to impound funds appropriated by Congress, thus threatening Congress's greatest political strength: its power over the purse. Nixon claimed, "The Constitutional right of the President of the United States to impound funds, and that is not to spend money, when the spending of money would mean either increasing prices or increasing taxes for all the people—that right is absolutely clear."

In the face of Nixon's claim to impoundment authority and his refusal to release appropriated funds, Congress in 1974 passed the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, which reformed the congressional budget process and established rules and procedures for presidential impoundment. In general, the provisions of the act were designed to curtail the power of the president in the budget process, which had been steadily growing throughout the twentieth century.

The Impoundment Control Act divides impoundments into two categories: deferrals and rescissions. In a deferral, the president asks Congress to delay the release of appropriated funds; in a RESCISSION, the president asks Congress to cancel the appropriation of funds altogether. Congress and the president must follow specific rules and procedures for each type of impoundment.

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