Long ago, the framers of the Constitution decided to separate the federal government’s powers into three branches, with each branch acting as a check on the other. Broadly speaking, the legislative branch writes the law, the judicial branch decides what the law means, and the executive branch decides how to enforce the law. Sometimes, however, the powers can overlap among the branches.
For example, besides writing the laws, the legislative branch also approves the budgets for the various federal agencies. And if a particular agency budget does not include funds for enforcement or implementation of a law, enforcement or implementation by that particular federal agency could effectively be stymied, regardless of how the executive branch would otherwise choose to enforce or implement the law. This is what’s known as, the “Power of the Purse.”
Congress has a long history of exercising the Power of the Purse. Often times, one political party will use the budget process to achieve something they would have difficulty achieving through the normal legislative process due to a lack of votes.
Last week, as reported by the Center for Biological Diversity, Senate Republicans proposed a number of additions to the appropriations bill for the Department of Interior and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A number of these additions were focused on the implementation and enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. For example, one addition would preclude the expenditure of funds for purposes of listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
Not surprisingly, support for these additions was split along party lines. As the holiday season continues, be sure to check back with us as we continue to monitor this process.