If the president wants to change spending in one direction, like to adjust the deficit without changing taxes, how much could they move it?

I suspect that the president would just get impeached in that scenario and have no power. But if there is some power I want to understand the range of dollar amount.

Of course this has been tried in the past but never effectively to my knowledge.

3 Answers 3


The president could simply veto any spending bill until the fiscal year ends. With no new spending authorization, presidents have traditionally just listed some spending as emergency spending. Anything else doesn't get paid until a new authorization is passed, either a short term one or one covering the new fiscal year. Wikipedia

There is no specific dollar amount. Presumably the president could not designate anything as emergency spending and nothing would get spent. Then the dollar amount would be the entire budget for as long as the government was shutdown. Of course, traditionally Congress has issued back pay to the federal employees who were not paid during the crisis, even if they weren't coming to work. Same thing for Social Security and Medicare benefits as well as contracted expenditures.

This approach also requires that the president have the support of at least a third of the members of one chamber of Congress (either the House or the Senate). Otherwise, they could override vetoes. If the president has the support of at least a third of the Senate (thirty-four out of the hundred), then the president would also be safe from removal from office by impeachment.

There is also an argument that the president generally has the power of impoundment, which was used until the Richard Nixon administration. Impoundment means that the president doesn't have to spend all the money that has been authorized in appropriations (spending) bills. The power of impoundment was limited by a law passed during the Nixon administration. There is an argument that such a law is unconstitutional and that the president can generally choose not to spend, although the Supreme Court disagreed in 1975.


None. The budget is going to pass no matter what. There has never been a case where somebody from congress sat down with the president to negotiate specific budgetary details. If it came down to that congress could simply override the veto.

Budgets are agreed upon as a bipartisan process. There is no way to pass the budget without some support from the other party, because even if you were to do so, there are bipartisan appropriations committees which decide on the details of the spending. Since both party leaders must implicitly agree on the budget, any budget that congress proposes implicitly has 2/3rds support and any votes against it are only possible as long as party leaders expect the budget to pass anyway.

So in short the entire process is designed to keep the president out of it and there is unlikely to be any scenario where presidential action would matter.

  • Could you provide some sources for the claims in this answer? Oct 14, 2018 at 15:41

The budget is a law much like any other. It requires the approval of a majority of both houses of Congress and the president’s signature; or it requires the approval of 2/3 of both houses without the signature.

Congress has write the budget so they have more direct control over the details.

Those are the rules.

In theory the president can only say yes or no to a budget and even a no can be overruled.

In practice the president’s ability to influence the budget depends on a lot of things:

  • which party controls Congress. If it is his own party then he is likely to have more influence

  • how popular president is. Leaders of both parties will be more willing to give the president what he wants if they think voters like the president.

  • how good the president is at convincing the public to demand what he wants in the budget (how good he is at using ‘the bully pulpit’)

  • how good he is at negotiating with Congress

That’s just for passing the budget. Most budgets these days delegate a lot of decisions to the president so he has a lot of arbitrary spending power within designated limits.

As for your question about what happens if the president just decides to tax or spend outside of what the law says, the answer is that no one knows how far the president could go because none have reached the point where they get stopped. No President has been removed from office nor have any been pressured into resigning for issues related to the budget.

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