Project 2025 partner lays foundation for Trump to ignore congressional spending in major power grab

Some close observers worry that a second Trump administration could use the “impoundment” power to defund the Dept. of Education and other conservative targets

A partner organization in a large conservative effort to provide policy and personnel recommendations to the next Republican administration, known as Project 2025, has become a leading advocate for the radical position that the president should have broad latitude to refuse to carry out Congressionally mandated spending. 

The ramifications of such a policy would be wide-reaching and could potentially threaten funding for the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, or other conservative targets within the federal government. 

The group pushing for this major expanse of presidential power is the Center for Renewing America, a MAGA-aligned think tank that has deployed several of its top figures to make its argument across right-wing broadcast and digital media. Its most recent salvo came in June, when CRA released a white paper arguing that a 1974 law restricting a president from unilaterally refusing to spend funds allocated by Congress — the so-called “impoundment” power — represented an improper break from historical precedent. Instead, CRA argued that the White House should have the authority to halt Congressional spending virtually at will.

“Congress’s use of its power of the purse to make it illegal for the President to intentionally spend less than the full amount of what appropriated was norm-breaking, unprecedented, and unconstitutional,” CRA senior fellow Mark Paoletta wrote with his co-authors David Shapiro and Brandon Stras. Paoletta and Shaprio have written op-eds advancing the same argument at The Hill and right-wing blog The Federalist

Paoletta’s executive branch power grab is an implicit goal of Project 2025, the right-wing policy and staffing initiative organized by conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. The Center for Renewing America is one of more than 100 partner organizations on Project 2025’s advisory board; its founder, Russ Vought, was the director of the Office of Management and Budget under former President Donald Trump and remains a major figure in MAGA media, in addition to being an open Christian nationalist

As Vought told The New York Times, describing his organization’s broader goal of remaking the federal government: “What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them.”

Although the impoundment power doesn’t come up in Project 2025’s policy book — Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise — it’s easy to see how it fits in with the effort’s larger goal of transforming the federal government. A second Trump administration could theoretically withhold funds outright or use that threat to pressure career staffers perceived to be insufficiently deferential to the White House.

The potential targets of such a scheme are laid out in black and white in Project 2025’s Mandate. The book takes aim at the Department of Health and Human Services for its pro-LGBTQ programs and directs the department to “issue guidance reemphasizing that states are free to defund Planned Parenthood in their state Medicaid plans.” It also calls for drastic cuts to the Department of Energy, shrinking the EPA, and for the total elimination of the Department of Education. The Department of Justice would likely be empowered to target reformist district attorneys and directed to slash anti-discrimination efforts. 

The CRA paper is an attempt to undermine the 1974 Impoundments Control Act, which Congress passed after former President Richard Nixon refused to spend federally allocated funds on “water pollution control, education and health programs and highway and housing construction,” according to The New York Times. Nixon approached the impoundment power as a tool to further centralize power within the office of the President and pursue a reactionary agenda that ran counter to the will of Congress, providing a possible historical template for CRA. 

Like Paoletta, Vought has publicly opposed the 1974 law. On X (formerly Twitter), Vought wrote: “Making Impoundment Great Again!”

Russ Vought post: Making Impoundment Great Again

Citation From Russ Vought's Twitter/X profile, accessed July 1, 2024

In another post, the Center for Renewing America’s X account paraphrased Vought’s description of the impoundment power as “our secret weapon to totally dismantle the WOKE & WEAPONIZED federal bureaucracy.” That post linked to a Real Clear Politics article that directly quoted Vought as arguing that “when you think that a law is unconstitutional,” referring to the Impoundment Control Act, a future Trump administration should “push the envelope.”

In February, Vought appeared on Fox Business to foreshadow the recently released CRA report. “The loss of impoundment authority — which 200 years of presidents enjoyed — was the original sin in eliminating the ability for a branch-on-branch to control spending,” Vought said. Other budgetary goals he named included “spending reductions,” “bureaucracy crushing,” and “welfare reform.”

Video file

Citation From the February 12, 2024, edition of Fox Business' Kudlow

According to The Washington Post, Vought made a similar comment on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast. “Presidents had the ability to impound funds for 200 years until a bad law got passed that we think is unconstitutional under President Nixon,” Vought said, “We want to go back in a different direction.”

Another CRA figure, who has advanced a radical theory of executive authority in other contexts, has also argued against the Impoundment Control Act. Last July, CRA senior fellow Jeffrey Clark also appeared on War Room to discuss his “fight against the administrative state,” in the host’s words.

“President Nixon really cracked the whip and was really using his historical impoundment powers,” Clark said. “And then when he was weak during Watergate, Congress passed this Impoundment Control Act to try to take that power away from the president.”

“So what I’m working on, essentially, are the constitutional arguments for why that was wrong and various ways in which the Impoundment Control Act is just flatly unconstitutional,” Clark continued.

Video file

Citation From the July 3, 2023, edition of Real America's Voice's War Room

During the final weeks of Trump’s administration, Clark — then a lawyer in the Department of Justice — attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election by pressuring the department to claim it had “identified significant concerns” with vote totals in crucial states and should send “a separate slate of electors supporting Donald J. Trump,” according to congressional testimony.

Though it remains publicly unclear which departments, agencies, or programs a second Trump administration could arbitrarily defund, he’s already shown a willingness to use federal funds as a bludgeon in his own personal protection racket. During his first term, Trump tried to withhold roughly $400 million in foreign military aid in order to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to provide him with dirt on the Biden family, which led to his first impeachment.

On X, Vought celebrated his organization’s white paper arguing against the Impoundment Control Act, which he promised was the “first of many” on the topic. 

“Why did we found the Center for Renewing America?” he wrote. “To write papers like this.”