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Parchment barriers and budgetary reform: aspects of executive-legislative relations in the Nixon era

Dumbrell, John W


John W Dumbrell


Between 1945 and 1969, discussions and public perceptions of executive-legislative relations were dominated by an intrinsic commitment to the executive branch as the controlling and ascendant partner. During the period of the Nixon Presidency, traditional perceptions of executive-legislative relations came under a severe strain. The ability of the American constitutional system to contain and resist drives to unchecked executive authority appeared in question. Members of Congress became increasingly aware of the possibility of appealing to the Constitution as a guardian of legislative prerogatives - particularly the "power of the purse" -which were under threat through unilateral executive activity. Such activity, including the impoundment of Congressionally appropriated funds and the controversial use of the "pocket veto" power, was generally designed to halt Congressional initiatives in domestic policy rather than to promote innovations favoured by the executive. The negative, unilateral devices used by the Nixon Administration were, in general, politically maladroit, constitutionally unsound and based upon an authoritarian view of executive authority. In resisting these devices, Members of Congress tended increasingly to look to the courts as a natural ally.
During the Nixon Presidency, legislators also came to express an increasing appreciation of the inherent institutional strengths of Congress as a discrete, governmental, representative assembly capable of both setting policy and acting as a powerful critic of the executive. The most coherent expression of this developing temper during the Nixon Presidency was the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. The product of diverse ideological and jurisdictional preoccupations, the Act represented a wide commitment to Congressional "independence" and "responsibility".

Publication Date Jan 1, 1978
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