Top House Democrats unveiled a bill Wednesday that would rein in what they see as the Trump administration’s abuse of congressional spending powers in its Ukraine aid freeze and diversion of federal cash to the border wall.
The Congressional Power of the Purse Act would bolster transparency requirements around the executive branch’s use of federal funding and increase penalties for violations of budget law, which already curbs the administration’s authority to alter congressionally appropriated funds.
Budget Chairman John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey of New
york and Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York introduced the bill. Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick Leahy of Vermont plans to introduce companion legislation in the upper chamber.
Democrats say the measure, which has been in the works for months, follows what they view as a series of abuses by the administration to withhold or redirect appropriated money to further the president’s personal interests and policy goals.
That includes President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency last year to free up billions of dollars for a border wall, his freeze on hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine last summer and efforts to scrap billions of dollars in foreign aid, among other actions.
“Over the past year and a half, the House Budget Committee has worked to hold this administration accountable for its systemic abuse of budget and appropriations law and degradation of our democratic principles,” Yarmuth said in a statement. “This legislation will add teeth to budget law and further empower Congress to take a stand against Administrations that disregard our Constitution.”
In January, the Government Accountability Office determined the administration broke the law by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine last summer — a move that prompted House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into whether Trump leveraged the aid for political favors. The Office of Management and Budget disagreed with GAO’s ruling.
OMB officials did not respond to a request for comment on the legislation. The Trump administration has so far rejected any congressional attempts to curtail its decisions around federal money.
The new legislation would expedite the GAO’s ability to obtain information during investigations of federal budget law violations. It would also allow GAO to sue more quickly if funds are improperly withheld. Federal officials found in violation of the law could be fired or suspended without pay.
The bill would place an “expiration date” on any national emergency declarations, and the administration wouldn’t be able to rescind federal funding without congressional approval. And OMB would have to make public any decisions to slow or withhold federal funds.