As James Madison famously wrote, the power of the purse is “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.” But the Constitution does not outline specific procedures for how Congress should use that weapon. Over time, Congress has developed a set of norms—the two-step authorization-appropriations process—to effectively execute its power under the Appropriations Clause. The two-step process was born out of a need to limit appropriations “riders” and maximize congressional oversight over an increasingly complex federal budget.
The two-step process has broken down with Congress’s failure to reenact temporary authorization bills on schedule. However, one anomalous bill stands as a stark exception to this breakdown—the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes programs for the Department of Defense. Indeed, despite Congress’s growing reputation for inaction and gridlock, the NDAA is routinely commended as “one of the last remaining relics of bipartisan consensus” and “perhaps the last bill, the last legislative process, that still actually works.”
This Note sheds light on the process that Congress has used to enact the NDAA on an annual basis for the last fifty-nine years. It argues that the breakdown of the authorization-appropriations process in nondefense policy areas weakens congressional oversight and proposes that Congress use the NDAA as a model to reignite the reauthorization process for other bills. Otherwise, the appropriations process may cease to provide as “complete and effectual” an oversight weapon as Congress can and should possess.
The full text of this Note can be found by clicking the PDF link to the left.