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The “Proper Organs” for Presidential Representation: A Fresh Look at the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 November 2018

John A. Dearborn*
Yale University


The presidency is now thought of as a representative institution. I argue that the idea of presidential representation, the claim that presidents represent the whole nation, influenced the political development of the institutional presidency. Specifically, I show that the idea was the assumption behind creating a national budget system in the United States. While the challenge of World War I debt prompted Congress to pass the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, the law’s design owes much to reformers’ arguments that the president lacked institutional tools to fulfill his representative role. Congress institutionalized presidential representation in budgeting by including two key components: a formal license for presidential agenda setting in the budget process and an enhanced executive organizational capacity with the Bureau of the Budget. However, the law also revealed the problems raised by attempting to provide the “proper organs” for presidential representation, which push against the written constitutional frame.

Copyright © Donald Critchlow and Cambridge University Press 2018 

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I thank Stephen Skowronek, David Mayhew, and Jacob Hacker for their mentorship, as well as Mark Zachary Taylor, Shannon Bow O’Brien, Torey McMurdo, and the JPH reviewers for extensive comments. William Howell, Greg Huber, Naomi Scheinerman, Sophie Jacobson, Annabelle Hutchinson, and Laura Hatchman also provided helpful feedback. Previous versions of this work were presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference and the Yale American Politics and Public Policy Workshop.



1. The connection between representation and legislation became firmly established especially in the early 1500s in England. Elton, G. R., ed., The Tudor Constitution: Documents and Commentary, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1982), 236–40.Google Scholar American political culture had developed a strong emphasis on the necessity of local representation based on colonial experience with the British Parliament. Reid, John Phillip, The Concept of Representation in the Age of the American Revolution (Chicago, 1989), 2830, 82–85, 129–36.Google Scholar

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7. Elements of my claim are implicit in Sidney Milkis’s suggestion that “the idea was to establish” that “the modern presidency, rather than Congress or party organizations” would be the “agent of popular rule.” But we need to examine more directly how and with what consequence the representative connection influenced the presidency’s institutional development. Milkis, Sidney M., “The Presidency and American Political Development: The Advent—and Illusion—of an Executive-centered Democracy,” in The Oxford Handbook of American Political Development, ed. Valelly, Richard, Mettler, Suzanne, and Robert Lieberman (New York, 2016), 293–94.Google Scholar

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9. As they write, “Presidents are truly national leaders with national constituencies who think in national terms about national problems—and they are far less likely than legislators to become captive to narrow or local special-interest pressures.” Howell and Moe, Relic, xvi.

10. Looking comparatively, presidents’ legislative powers might include the package veto, partial veto, exclusive introduction of legislation, budgetary initiation, and proposal of referenda. See Shugart, Matthew Soberg and Carey, John M., Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics (New York, 1992), 150, table 8.1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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15. In addition, they point out that there are relatively few “in-depth” studies of how and why Congress itself made the institutional presidency. Gailmard, Sean and Patty, John W., Learning While Governing: Expertise and Accountability in the Executive Branch (Chicago, 2013), 167–68, 154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar On Congress’s choice to delegate to the president, see also Mayhew, David R., The Imprint of Congress (New Haven, 2017), 114–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

16. Some mark the beginning of the “modern presidency” to passage of the 1921 law, so this case shows us the influence of the idea of presidential representation on both one critical innovation and, more generally, the genesis of the institutional presidency. Sundquist, James L., The Decline and Resurgence of Congress (Washington, D.C., 1981), 39.Google Scholar

17. In fact, the beginnings of the association of representation and finance dated to even before the Magna Carta in England. King Henry II obtained a tithe for the crusades in 1188 with the consent of a council. The controversy that led to the Magna Carta itself partly involved an attempt by King John to tax bishops in 1207. Maitland, F. W., The Constitutional History of England: A Course of Lectures Delivered (Cambridge, 1908), 6768;Google Scholar Holt, J. C., Magna Carta, 2nd ed. (New York, 1992), 3435, 43–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar The Magna Carta’s limitations on the king’s ability to collect taxes with a council of twenty-five barons did not fully establish the connection between representation and finance, but it contributed to that subsequent development. Maitland, Constitutional History, 95; Holt, Magna Carta, 321–22, 398–400, 404–5. As Maitland noted, “After 1295 the imposition of any direct tax without the common consent of the realm was against the very letter of the law.” Maitland, Constitutional History, 96. The principle of direct taxation being agreed to only with Parliament’s assent “was established by the middle of the fourteenth century,” and most of Parliament’s purpose for meeting was to grant money. During Tudor times, the principle of money bills having to originate in the House of Commons became fully established. Furthermore, the Commons was able to most successfully challenge the king over issues of money. Elton, The Tudor Constitution, 43, 233, 248, 309.

18. Fisher, Louis, Defending Congress and the Constitution (Lawrence, Kans., 2011), 199200;Google Scholar Robertson, Original Compromise, 107–9. As James Madison famously argued, “This power over the purse, may in fact be regarded as the most compleat [sic] and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.” Madison, James, “The Federalist No. 58” [20 February 1788], in Hamilton, Alexander, Madison, James, and Jay, John, The Federalist, ed. Ball, Terence (New York, 2003), 284–85.Google Scholar

19. Specifically, the 1920 Republican presidential candidate Warren G. Harding argued, “We must stabilize and strive for normalcy.” Harding, Warren G., “Address Accepting the Republican Presidential Nomination,” 12 June 1920, The American Presidency Project, Scholar

20. Sundquist, Decline and Resurgence, chap. 3, 39–44.

21. Gailmard and Patty, Learning While Governing, chap. 6, 184–85, 187–89, 192. The general hypothesis Gailmard and Patty put forth is that Congress should find it advantageous to give the president control over institutions when they provide information that would keep him well informed in using authority he already possesses, while Congress should reject proposals giving the president new powers.

22. “For more than a century, Congress received what was called a ‘Book of Estimates’: an uncoordinated pile of agency budget requests from executive agencies. That process grew increasingly unacceptable, especially after a string of deficits appeared at the end of the nineteenth century.” Fisher, Defending Congress, 199.

23. For the influence of Taylorism and scientific management on politics, see Haber, Samuel, Efficiency and Uplift: Scientific Management in the Progressive Era, 1890–1920 (Chicago, 1964), chap. 6.Google Scholar

24. For example, consider that budget reform after the Civil War involved centralizing through the Appropriations Committee, rather than involving the president. Fisher, Louis, Presidential Spending Power (Princeton, 1975), 1921.Google Scholar

25. On using process tracing to determine the influence of ideas on political outcomes, see Jacobs, Alan M., “Process Tracing the Effects of Ideas,” in Process Tracing: From Metaphor to Analytic Tool, ed. Bennett, Andrew and Checkel, Jeffrey T. (New York, 2014), 4173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

26. One prominent perspective is that political change can be motivated by the gap between what is expected of institutions and what their existing practices and capacities are. Specifically, political development can arise “out of ‘friction’ among mismatched institutional and ideational patterns.” Lieberman, Robert C., “Ideas, Institutions, and Political Order: Explaining Political Change,” American Political Science Review 96, no. 4 (December 2002): 697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar See also Orren, Karen and Skowronek, Stephen, The Search for American Political Development (New York, 2004);CrossRefGoogle Scholar Ceaser, James, Nature and History in American Political Development: A Debate (Cambridge, Mass., 2006).Google Scholar

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28. The issue was “whether the part is greater than the whole.” Vrooman, Frank Buffington, The New Politics (New York, 1911), 191.Google Scholar “This is the penalty of a democracy,” wrote Addams, Jane, “that we are bound to move forward or retrograde together.” Democracy and Social Ethics (New York, 1902), 256.Google Scholar

29. Ambar, Saladin M., How Governors Built the Modern American Presidency (Philadelphia, 2012), chaps. 1–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Some of these governors included Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt in New York, Robert La Follette in Wisconsin, Woodrow Wilson in New Jersey, and Hiram Johnson in California.

30. Tulis, Rhetorical Presidency; Farrar-Myers, Victoria A., Scripted for Change: The Institutionalization of the American Presidency (College Station, Tex., 2007).Google Scholar

31. McCall, Samuel W., The Business of Congress (New York, 1911), 188.Google Scholar

32. Wilson, Woodrow, Constitutional Government in the United States (New York, 1908), 68. The president, Wilson argued, was “the only national voice in affairs.”Google Scholar

33. Roosevelt, Theodore, An Autobiography (New York, 1913), 389.Google Scholar

34. Jenks, Jeremiah W., Principles of Politics from the Viewpoint of the American Citizen (New York, 1909), 111.Google Scholar While British Members of Parliament were thought to focus on the national interest, congressmen were perceived as mainly representing districts and states. Elliot, Edward, American Government and Majority Rule: A Study in American Political Development (Princeton, 1916), 141–42.Google Scholar

35. Wilson, Woodrow, Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics (Boston, 1885), 280;Google Scholar Croly, Herbert, The Promise of American Life (New York, 1909), 69;Google Scholar Hadley, Arthur Twining, Standards of Public Morality (New York, 1907), 117.Google Scholar

36. Ford, Rise and Growth, 215. The early twentieth century “presented a mismatch between presidential initiative and presidential support institutions.” Gailmard and Patty, Learning While Governing, 183.

37. On the British idea of cabinet government, see Jennings, W. Ivor, Cabinet Government (Cambridge, 1936).Google Scholar On the unitary executive theory, see Calabresi, Steven G. and Yoo, Christopher S., The Unitary Executive: Presidential Power from Washington to Bush (New Haven, 2008).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

38. Leadership would be granted to “one man who represents the dominant phase of public opinion,” allowing for more effective “majority rule” to occur. Croly, Herbert, Progressive Democracy (New York, 1914), 304.Google Scholar By having the executive initiate policies and being held responsible by the public for all legislation, the democratic capabilities of citizens would be enhanced. Stears, Marc, Demanding Democracy: American Radicals in Search of a New Politics (Princeton, 2010), 38, 42.Google Scholar

39. Elliot, American Government and Majority Rule, 158–59.

40. The modern unitary executive theory became popularized in conservative legal circles in the 1970s and 1980s. Skowronek, Stephen, “The Conservative Insurgency and Presidential Power: A Developmental Perspective on the Unitary Executive,” Harvard Law Review 122, no. 8 (June 2009): 20702103.Google Scholar

41. Ford, Rise and Growth, 278–79.

42. Burgess, John W., Political Science and Comparative Constitutional Law, vol. 2 (Boston, 1890), 254.Google Scholar

43. Bradford, Gamaliel, The Lesson of Popular Government, vol. 1 (New York, 1899), 367.Google Scholar

44. Haber, Efficiency and Uplift, ix.

45. Fitzgerald, F. Scott, Tales of the Jazz Age (New York, 1922), 221.Google Scholar

46. Arnold, Peri E., Making the Managerial Presidency: Comprehensive Reorganization Planning, 1906–1996, 2nd ed. (Lawrence, Kans., 1998), 1720.Google Scholar Struggles over the structure of the bureaucracy were also cloaked in the language of efficiency. Skowronek, Stephen, Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877–1920 (New York, 1982), 166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

47. Issues of political representation were central to budget reform at all levels of government. Kahn, Jonathan, Budgeting Democracy: State Building and Citizenship in America, 1890–1928 (Ithaca, 1997), 5.Google Scholar

48. As Charles Wallace Collins wrote, “Local influences—the influences which each Member feels from his own district or his own State—permeate our financial methods.” A Plan for a National Budget System, 65th Cong., 2nd sess., House Document No. 1006 (Washington, D.C., 1918), 16. Another observer concurred: “Nearly every congressman has some project for spending public money in his own district, and if it is not recommended in the estimates of some executive department, he endeavors to get it wedged into one of the omnibus enactments.” Munro, William Bennett, The Government of the United States: National, State, and Local (New York, 1919), 305.Google Scholar These statements reflect the idea of the “electoral connection.” Mayhew, David R., Congress: The Electoral Connection (New Haven, 1974).Google Scholar Prominent Republicans admitted the spending problem despite their party controlling Congress. Representative James Tawney (R-Wis.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, stated in 1909, “In no period except in time of war have the expenditures of our National Government increased so rapidly. . . as these expenditures have increased during the past eight years. Senator Nelson Aldrich (R-R.I.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, agreed: “The rapidity with which our national expenditures have increased within the last three years is a source of anxiety if not of alarm.” Statements quoted in Ford, Henry Jones, The Cost of Our National Government: A Study in Political Pathology (New York, 1910), 3.Google Scholar

49. Meyers, Roy T. and Rubin, Irene S., “The Executive Budget in the Federal Government: The First Century and Beyond,” Public Administration Review 71, no. 3 (May–June 2011): 335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

50. Fitzpatrick, Edward A., Budget Making in a Democracy: A New View of the Budget (New York, 1918), 38.Google Scholar Fitzpatrick specifically referred to the logic of presidential representation as the basis of the real argument such reformers were making: “Since the legislators are representatives of small districts and the executive is representative of the state or the nation, the proposals should be prepared by him. The responsibility for budget proposals must obviously be placed in the executive. This is the way the argument is presented by the advocates of the executive budget plan.” Fitzpatrick, Budget Making, 44. However, while Fitzpatrick was critical of proposals for the president to have strong agenda-setting powers (such as those restricting amendments), he did argue that the president, not the Treasury Secretary, should revise departmental estimates because of the logic of presidential representation: “The representative function which the executive serves is the fundamental reason for giving him the power of revising departmental estimates.” Fitzpatrick, Budget Making, 70.

51. White, Leonard D., The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History (New York, 1948), 118–19, 58;Google Scholar White, Leonard D., The Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History (New York, 1951), 140–42;Google Scholar Fisher, Presidential Spending Power, 11–13; Meyers and Rubin, “Executive Budget in the Federal Government,” 335.

52. White, Leonard D., The Jacksonians: A Study in Administrative History (New York, 1954), 3947;Google Scholar White, Leonard D., The Republican Era, 1869–1901: A Study in Administrative History (New York, 1958), 6667, 97–98.Google Scholar In his critique of the American system of government as compared to the British system, Walter Bagehot wrote about the American Treasury Secretary having to attempt to connect the executive and legislative branches in finance, but he did not mention the president at all. Bagehot, Walter, The English Constitution (London, 1867), 19.Google Scholar Under British practice, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had the authority to revise department estimates and the House of Commons had essentially a supervisory role. Lowell, A. Lawrence, The Government of England, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York, 1912), chap. 14;Google Scholar Jennings, Cabinet Government, 125–26. For a specific example of how Treasury Secretary John Sherman explained his relative independence from President Rutherford Hayes, see O’Brien, “Theoretical Critique of the Unitary Executive Framework,” 172–73.

53. For example, President James K. Polk sought to direct the attention of the cabinet to budget estimates, while many of his successors considered this to be more a role for Congress. Fisher, Presidential Spending Power, 15–19. “Throughout the nineteenth century, annual estimates of expenditures originated in the various bureaus and agencies of the executive branch. Presidents exercised no formal or statutory duty to review the estimates and assemble a national budget, but on an informal level, some intervened to change agency estimates.” Fisher, Defending Congress, 201.

54. White, Republican Era, 61–65; Fisher, Presidential Spending Power, 19–21. “Financial policy” in the late nineteenth century was, in Woodrow Wilson’s words, “directed by the representative body itself, with only clerical aid from the executive.” Wilson, Congressional Government, 180.

55. “[A]t no time does any single committee or board or other legislative or executive agency view the finances as a whole. The financial legislation of Congress is therefore lacking in the national point of view.” Collins, Plan for a National Budget System, Chart No. 1, 16. “The ability of Congress to maintain a coherent picture of national finances was weakened by two developments during the 19th century: division of the general appropriation bill into separate pieces of legislation, and splintering of the money committees in both Houses.” Fisher, Presidential Spending Power, 19.

56. Americans needed to “emancipate” themselves from a “theory” that had “ceased to be applicable to modern conditions.” Goodnow, Frank J., “The Limit of Budgetary Control,” Proceedings of the American Political Science Association 9 (1912): 77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar See also Goodnow, Frank J., Politics and Administration: A Study in Government (New York, 1900).Google Scholar By excluding the president from budgeting, the executive was “deprived of influence on the one hand, of responsibility on the other.” Bryce, James, The American Commonwealth, vol. 1, rev. ed. (New York, 1910), 211, 213.Google Scholar

57. Ford, Cost, 9–15. “Log-rolling,” the “only available method of getting bills through,” had led to local interests being served at the nation’s expense. Ford, Cost, 41.

58. Ibid., 45.

59. Ibid., 63. Ford’s plans based upon presidential representation amounted to “a prescription according to the spirit of the times,” according to one book review. “Political Pathology,” New York Times, 21 May 1911, 310. For a summary of Ford’s views on the presidency, see Skowronek, Stephen, “Henry Jones Ford on the Development of American Institutions,” PS: Political Science and Politics 32, no. 2 (June 1999): 233–34.Google Scholar

60. Congressional jealousy was also cited as exacerbating the separation of powers. Cleveland, Frederick A. and Buck, Arthur Eugene, The Budget and Responsible Government (New York, 1920), 388–91.Google Scholar

61. Cleveland, Frederick A., “How We Have Been Getting Along without a Budget,” Proceedings of the American Political Science Association 9 (1912): 47, 61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Cleveland viewed the executive budget as a mechanism for the public to hold the executive to account: “It is only by giving an opportunity to leaders to make an appeal to the electorate as the final authority in a democracy that popular opinion can control.” Cleveland and Buck, Budget and Responsible Government, 23–24. While most of the debate focused on the executive budget, another solution proposed was the presidential line-item veto. See, for example, Johnson, Allen, “American Budget-Making,” Yale Review 18 (February 1910): 363–71.Google Scholar

62. Taft stated that it was his “responsibility” to seek reform because he especially would be “held accountable to the public.” Taft, William Howard, “Second Annual Message,” 6 December 1910, The American Presidency Project, Scholar

63. Taft, William Howard, Our Chief Magistrate and His Powers (New York, 1916), 6.Google Scholar

64. Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 26–39. Joining Cleveland were William Willoughby, Merritt Chance, Frank Goodnow, Walter Warwick, and Harvey Chance. A majority had previously worked for strong municipal executives.

65. Citing the Article II power to recommend measures to Congress, Taft argued that the commission’s reforms would allow the electorate to “locate responsibility for plans submitted or for results.” Taft’s 27 June 1912 message, in President’s Commission on Economy and Efficiency [PCEE], The Need for a National Budget, 62nd Cong., 2nd sess., House Document No. 854 (Washington, D.C., 1912), 1, 4.

66. Additionally, the Treasury Secretary would submit details on these plans, including a book of estimates and a consolidated financial report, while department heads would submit annual reports to Treasury and Congress. The president and department heads would set reporting requirements. Finally, the president would “recommend” relevant bills to Congress that would allow for beneficial executive “discretion.” PCEE, Need for a National Budget, 7–8.

67. Ibid., 138.

68. Ibid., 141.

69. Ibid., 10. The commission noted that because the legislature was “regarded as the authority which initiates and determines a policy [for] the Executive to carry out,” the “budget [had] been primarily an affair of the Congress rather than of the President.”

70. PCEE, Need for a National Budget, 140.

71. Message of the President of the United States Submitting for the Consideration of the Congress A Budget with Supporting Memoranda and Reports, 62nd Cong., 3rd sess., Senate Document No. 1113 (26 February 1913), Appendix 2, “The Need for the Organization of a Bureau of Central Administrative Control,” 191, 194, 195, 200. Functions performed by the bureau would include auditing, accounting, standardization, reporting, inspection, and budget-making. Senate consent would be required in appointing the bureau head, and Congress would remain free to develop its own investigative capacities.

72. Thus, the commission was limited to only Cleveland, Warwick, and Chance. Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 39–41.

73. Haber, Efficiency and Uplift, 114.

74. Cleveland and Buck, Budget and Responsible Government, 342. When Taft’s message on the report was received, it was placed into the Record but not debated on the floor. Congressional Record, 62nd Cong., 2nd sess. (1 July 1912), 8511.

75. Fisher, Presidential Spending Power, 31; Stewart, Budget Reform Politics, 187; Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 46–49. Ironically, Taft—a constitutionalist and critic of Theodore Roosevelt’s theory of executive power—was rebuffed for too ambitious a plan for executive authority.

76. Stewart, Charles H. III, Budget Reform Politics: The Design of the Appropriations Process in the House of Representatives (New York, 1989), 182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

77. “Now Favor Budget, with House Control,” New York Times, 30 November 1912, 5. Representative J. Swagar Sherley (D-Ky.) proposed in 1910 a House Committee on Estimates and Expenditures that would report on available revenue for appropriations. The committee would be composed of congressmen from various committees with a plurality from Appropriations and Ways and Means. Notably, the proposal was unfavorable to an executive budget system, and it did not fully centralize the appropriations process in Congress. Representative John Fitzgerald (D-N.Y.), however, did favor centralizing the appropriations process in Congress, proposing to give a central Committee on Appropriations full jurisdiction over expenditures. Stewart, Budget Reform Politics, 191–96. Joseph Cannon—the living embodiment of “autocracy exercised through the committee system”—also favored centralizing the appropriations process. Cleveland and Buck, Budget and Responsible Government, 347. Sherley again explained his legislative proposal in 1913 after Taft had attempted to impose the PCEE’s recommended process on Congress. Congressional Record, 62nd Cong., 3rd sess. (28 February 1913), 4349–55.

78. Congressional Record, 62nd Cong., 3rd sess. (28 February 1913), 4349–350, 4354.

79. Stewart, Budget Reform Politics, 189–90; Meyers and Rubin, “Executive Budget in the Federal Government,” 335.

80. Fisher, Presidential Spending Power, 32; Wilson, Woodrow, “The Study of Administration,” Political Science Quarterly 2, no. 2 (June 1887): 197222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Initially, Wilson had been seen by some as likely to try to continue the commission, even discussing it with Cleveland, Frederick. “Wilson for Economy Board,” New York Times, 5 April 1913, 3.Google Scholar

81. Skowronek, Building a New American State, 175.

82. Taft, Our Chief Magistrate, 64–65. The movement made progress, partly due to the “wide publicity” of Taft’s efforts. Collins, Charles Wallace, The National Budget System and American Finance (New York, 1917), 136.Google Scholar

83. However, alternatives to the executive budget included a commission budget, using a board to prepare estimates and send them to the legislature, and the legislative budget, involving the legislature alone preparing the budget. Cleveland and Buck, Budget and Responsible Government, 123–28.

84. None of the three major parties in 1912 mentioned budget reform in their respective platforms. “Republican Party Platform of 1912,” 18 June 1912, The American Presidency Project, ; “1912 Democratic Party Platform,” 25 June 1912, The American Presidency Project,; “Progressive Party Platform of 1912,” 5 November 1912, The American Presidency Project, However, in 1916, budget reform was included. Democrats wanted the House to initiate and prepare all appropriation bills in a single committee. “Democratic Party Platform of 1916,” 14 June 1916, The American Presidency Project, With Democrats in charge, Republicans shifted ground and criticized their “rejection of President Taft’s oft-repeated proposals,” arguing that they were “necessary to effect a real reform in the administration of national finance.” “Republican Party Platform of 1916,” 7 June 1916, The American Presidency Project, Republican nominee Charles Evans Hughes called for “a responsible budget, proposed by the executive.” And, despite waning influence, the Progressive Party advocated a national budget for “the destruction of ‘pork barrel’ legislation.” Collins, National Budget System and American Finance, 142–43.

85. Fisher, Presidential Spending Power, 32; Kahn, Budgeting Democracy, 167–75. On the origins of the IGR, see Critchlow, Donald T., The Brookings Institution, 1916–1952: Expertise and the Public Interest in a Democratic Society (DeKalb, Ill., 1985), chap. 2.Google Scholar

86. Willoughby, William Franklin, The Problem of a National Budget (New York, 1918), 145, 66.Google Scholar

87. Institute for Government Research [IGR], A National Budget System: The Most Important of All Governmental Reconstruction Measures (Washington, D.C., 1919), 13;Google Scholar Kahn, Budgeting Democracy, 169.

88. Willoughby, Problem of a National Budget, 62–67.

89. Ibid., 131–33.

90. Ibid., 135.

91. Ibid., 64–65; IGR, National Budget System, 7.

92. The budget bureau would help to subordinate the cabinet to the president in budgeting. Willoughby, Problem of a National Budget, 34–35.

93. IGR, National Budget System, 12. On “strategic preferences,” see Hacker, Jacob S. and Pierson, Paul, “Business Power and Social Policy: Employers and the Formation of the American Welfare State,” Politics & Society 30, no. 2 (June 2002): 277325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

94. Fisher, Presidential Spending Power, 31–34; Stewart, Budget Reform Politics, 233; Kahn, Budgeting Democracy, 166.

95. Former Speaker Joseph Cannon advocated for centralizing the committees rather than involving the president: “I believe that the House of Representatives should have one committee with jurisdiction over appropriations, and that the House should stand firmly for its budget, because it is the one branch of Congress to which the Constitution committed this responsibility and the one which the people hold responsible for the budget, which includes taxation as well as expenditure.” Cannon, Joseph G., The National Budget, 66th Cong., 1st sess., House Document No. 264 (Washington, D.C., 1919), 29.Google Scholar

96. As of 1920, twenty-four states had an executive budget, eighteen states had a commission budget (eleven an executive commission and seven a mixed executive-legislative commission), and two a legislative budget. Cleveland and Buck, Budget and Responsible Government, 124.

97. Moreover, Congress and the Wilson administration had clashed during World War I over control of the war effort and the bureaucracy. Skowronek, Building a New American State, 175.

98. Public opinion “was wholly” on the side of giving the executive responsibility for budget preparation because Congress “had failed” at its fiscal responsibilities. Sundquist, Decline and Resurgence, 40.

99. Cannon, National Budget, 28–29.

100. Sherley also acknowledged Congress’s previous unwillingness to embrace reform: “I earned unpopularity at the hands of a good many people in Congress by my efforts to curtail expenditures.” National Budget System, Hearings Before the Select Committee on the Budget, House of Representatives, 66th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, D.C., 1919), 381, 396–97, 399.

101. “Congressmen are human beings and liable to be influenced.” National Budget System, Hearings, 503.

102. National Budget System, Hearings, 534. For more on Cleveland’s continued advocacy during this period, see Cleveland, Frederick A., “Why We Distrust Our Government,” New Republic, 8 July 1916, 242–44;Google Scholar Cleveland, “Efficiency in Public Business,” New Republic, 15 July 1916, 273–75; Cleveland, “Why We Have a Pork Barrel,” New Republic, 22 July 1916, 294–96.

103. National Budget System, Hearings, 86.

104. Congress, as “the board of directors,” would give administrative authority to “its agents,” the president, and the cabinet. National Budget System, Hearings, 74.

105. A budget bureau would also “multiply the power of the President over his subordinates.” National Budget System, Hearings, 641, 622. Stimson had initially called for sweeping reforms shortly after ending his first stint as Secretary of War under Taft. In budgeting, he wanted to require the president to introduce a budget to Congress, have cabinet officers defend it in floor debate, prohibit Congress from adding items to the budget without presidential concurrence, and provide a line-item veto to the president. And he sought to allow the president to introduce general legislation that would receive preference on the legislative calendar and also allow for cabinet officers to defend those presidential bills on the floor. Stimson praised Woodrow Wilson for speaking in person in Congress, but felt he had not gone far enough: “In order to make the reform permanent and effective there is needed the careful construction of machinery by which cooperation will become normal and natural, and not dramatic and extraordinary.” Finally, he criticized the existing committee system for giving power to congressmen “who, neither as committeemen nor as Congressmen, are responsible to the country at large.” “Wishes President to Lead Congress,” New York Times, 28 May 1913, 6. For more on Stimson’s views of executive-legislative relationships, see Stimson, Henry L. and Bundy, McGeorge, On Active Service in Peace and War (New York, 1948), chap. 3.Google Scholar

106. Goodnow referred to such an officer as an “Executive Secretary of the President.” National Budget System, Hearings, 345.

107. “The President ought to have someone who could come into my department at any time and see how I am running it, for his own satisfaction.” National Budget System, Hearings, 654, 672–73.

108. “We either do not need a budget system at all . . . or you have to face that issue.” National Budget System, Hearings, 165–66. Lindsay was vice chairman of the National Budget Committee. Byrns continued to express concern that individual congressmen in the House, the closest branch to the people, were losing power. He wondered aloud if it would be “entirely democratic to take away from the membership of the House . . . who are directly responsible to the people and who are elected by the people, any voice whatever with reference to appropriations.” Yet even he asserted that the only person in the executive branch who could legitimately be held responsible for a budget was the nationally elected president. National Budget System, Hearings, 304, 615.

109. National Budget System, Hearings, 570–71, 586.

110. The significance of the discussion was not lost on the New Republic: it was “inevitable that the center of legislative initiation should belong to those who are to administer legislation.” The separation of powers in budgeting had “broken down.” “H.R. 9783,” New Republic, 7 January 1920, 162.

111. Sundquist, Decline and Resurgence, 43. Only two states out of forty-four with relatively new procedures had adopted the legislative budget idea. Cleveland and Buck, Budget and Responsible Government, 124, 341.

112. Kahn, Budgeting Democracy, 179–81.

113. Congressional Record, 66th Cong., 2nd sess. (29 May 1920), 7955. Byrns also said that the “chief merit” of the bill was that it increased presidential accountability by fixing “responsibility” on him. Congressional Record, 66th Cong., 1st sess. (17 October 1919), 7087–88.

114. Congressional Record, 66th Cong., 1st sess. (18 October 1919), 7125. Representative Willis Hawley (R-Ore.) enthused on the potential of “a great President, who, like Mr. Gladstone, will found his title to fame and lasting glory . . . upon the fact that he conducted the administrative affairs of this government upon a basis of sound economy.” Still, Hawley did affirm the House’s primary popular connection. Congressional Record, 66th Cong., 1st sess. (18 October 1919), 7139, 7133.

115. Proposals envisioning stronger versions of presidential agenda setting power included H.R. 4061, H.R. 3738, and H.J. 83. Representative James Frear (R-Wis.) sought to make the president responsible for submitting a budget with the Treasury Secretary as head of a budget bureau. The president’s agenda-setting power would be substantial: a joint committee in Congress would be able to add amendments to reduce presidential budget requests by a simple majority, but would only be able to increase requests with the support of a two-thirds supermajority of the committee. Cleveland and Buck, Budget and Responsible Government, 359–60.

116. Cleveland and Arthur Buck argued that presidents would be better “held accountable to the people” with such a strong agenda-setting power, and in their disappointment at its rejection, they criticized the main proposal (H.R. 1021) as “essentially a well-camouflaged legislative budget device.” Though their criticism showed clear-eyed recognition of the limits Congress would impose on reform, it understated the significance of the main proposal.

Cleveland and Buck, Budget and Responsible Government, 373–74, 363.

117. National Budget System, Conference Report to accompany H.R. 9783, 66th Cong., 2nd sess., House Report No. 1044 (26 May 1920), 3; Kahn, Budgeting Democracy, 179–81.

118. “If the President were to maintain the opinion of the director of the budget against that of the head of the department upon any serious issue, the resignation of the member of the Cabinet would naturally follow.” National Budget System, Report to accompany H.R. 9783, 66th Cong., 2nd sess., Senate Report No. 524 (13 April 1920), 1–2.

119. Cleveland and Buck, Budget and Responsible Government, 359–60.

120. National Budget System, Conference Report to accompany H.R. 9783, 66th Cong., 2nd sess., House Report No. 1044 (26 May 1920), 5.

121. Fisher, Presidential Spending Power, 35.

122. Democrats favored making the Treasury Secretary responsible again for preparing the president’s budget, and they wanted single committees in each chamber to consider the proposal. Interestingly, they sought to prevent a budget increase by Congress “except by a two-thirds vote.” “Democratic Party Platform of 1920,” 28 June 1920, The American Presidency Project, Republicans called for “an executive budget” that would involve “leadership and sincere assistance on the part of the executive departments.” “Republican Party Platform of 1920,” 8 June 1920, The American Presidency Project,

123. “The Fact that a thing has existed for a decade or a century—that things have been done in a certain way for a generation—must not be accepted as proving that it ought to continue that way.” Harding, Warren G., “Business in Government and the Problem of Governmental Reorganization for Greater Efficiency,” Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science in the City of New York 9, no. 3 (July 1921): 432.Google Scholar

124. “House Passes Bill for Budget Bureau,” New York Times, 6 May 1921, 15.

125. The House agreed to locate BOB in the Treasury Department “with the further modifications that the bureau shall prepare the budget for the President under such rules and regulations as he may prescribe and that the director of the bureau shall perform the administrative duties personal to the bureau under such rules and regulations as the President may prescribe.” In addition, the Senate had wanted the Comptroller’s term to be seven years, removable by joint resolution, while the House sought a fifteen-year term with removal by concurrent resolution. The compromise was a fifteen-year term removable by joint resolution, which overcame the issue that had caused Wilson’s veto in 1920. National Budget System, Conference Report to accompany S. 1084, 67th Cong., 1st sess., House Report No. 96 (25 May 1921), 10. This plan was “in accordance with views recently expressed by President Harding.” “Budget Bill Agreed on by Congress Conferees,” Baltimore Sun, 24 May 1921, 2.

126. The president, representing the whole public, would propose the budget; Congress, with individual legislators representing districts and states, would react to that budget instead of initiating the process.

127. Budget and Accounting Act, 1921 (P.L. 67–13, 42 Stat. 20, 10 June 1921).

128. Emmerich, Herbert, Federal Organization and Administrative Management (Tuscaloosa, 1971), 4041.Google Scholar

129. Furthermore, no new executive office of the president was created. Skowronek, Building a New American State, 206–7.

130. This was “an essential balance to the president’s new power.” Kahn, Budgeting Democracy, 181–82; Fisher, Defending Congress, 203.

131. Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 1st sess. (26 April 1921), 660. Interestingly, Senator Joseph Robinson (D-Ark.), who would become involved in the reorganization efforts of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, noted the potential implications of Congress requiring the president to propose policy for the Constitution’s separation of powers. “I repeat that if the power of the President to make recommendations to Congress is a constitutional power, then the Congress itself can neither add to nor detract from it. Congress can not tell the President what he should recommend to it. But if we see fit to tell the President, in spite of the constitutional problems governing the subject, that he must make recommendations for the levying of new taxes if the budget is greater than the estimated revenues, we might on the other hand also suggest to him to make recommendations for a reduction of taxes if the budget is less than the estimated revenues.”

132. “All of the changes have gravitated toward the original provisions of the House bill.” Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 1st sess. (27 May 1921), 1854.

133. While some had argued that it “would have been better not to have put in the words ‘in the Treasury Department,’” Good felt it was mostly “an idle phrase.” Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 1st sess. (27 May 1921), 1854–55.

134. Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 1st sess. (27 May 1921), 1855. On the significance of BOB’s location in the Treasury, Good quite directly stated, “It does not mean anything.” By contrast, Senator McCormick viewed BOB being located in the Treasury as significant because the House had wanted it to be in an “executive office of the President.” Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 1st sess. (26 April 1921), 660.

135. “The President would want his own budget officer who entertained his ideas of economy.” Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 1st sess. (27 May 1921), 1856.

136. For example, Joseph Byrns hailed the act as “one of the greatest that the Congress has passed for many, many years.” Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 1st sess. (27 May 1921), 1857

137. Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 1st sess. (27 May 1921), 1857.

138. Garner had expressed concern that reformers were causing “the people of this country to lose confidence in the integrity or wisdom in the branch of the Government that I think is more responsible to the people than any other branch.” National Budget System, Hearings, 152.

139. In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt would transfer BOB to the new Executive Office of the President under the authority of the Reorganization Act of 1939.

140. Tulis, Rhetorical Presidency, chaps. 4 and 5.

141. Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Vegetable, or From President to Postman (New York, 1923), 71.Google Scholar This line, spoken by General Pushing to President Jerry Frost, comes from Act II during Jerry’s dream sequence in which he serves as president.

142. Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 54.

143. Harding, Warren G., “Address of the President,” Addresses of the President of the United States and the Director of the Bureau of the Budget at the Second Semiannual Meeting of the Business Organization of Government (Washington, D.C., 1922), 8, 4.Google Scholar Harding focused on “binding together” those “departments and independent establishments which formerly . . . operated independently of one another.”

144. Dawes believed that government had previously lacked “the central pressure for correct administration from the Chief Executive, the machinery for exerting which he now has under the Budget law,” and he felt “armed with greater powers” due to “the law and the personal attitude of the President.” Dawes, Charles G., The First Year of the Budget of the United States (New York, 1923), 12.Google Scholar

145. Ibid., 115.

146. Ibid., x. Charged with reducing department estimates by 10 percent, Dawes announced a savings of $122,512,628 from the projected appropriations. Seeking to lead by example, Dawes only spent about half of the bureau’s allotted appropriation. “Dawes Announces Cut of $112,512,628,” New York Times, 20 July 1921, 14; Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 55; Ellis, Richard J., The Development of the American Presidency (New York, 2012), 274–75.Google Scholar

147. Harding, Warren G., “Address of the President,” Addresses of the President of the United States and the Director of the Bureau of the Budget at the Fourth Regular Meeting of the Business Organization of Government (Washington, D.C., 1923), 5.Google Scholar

148. Harding, Warren G., “Address of the President,” Addresses of the President of the United States and the Director of the Bureau of the Budget at the Fifth Regular Meeting of the Business Organization of Government (Washington, D.C., 1923), 4.Google Scholar

149. “[Harding] admonished you against the advocating of an estimate before the Congress and its committees in excess of the executive recommendation. . . . This law must be observed.” Coolidge also recognized the budget director as “the eyes and ears of the Executive.” Coolidge, Calvin, “Address of the President,” Addresses of the President of the United States and the Director of the Bureau of the Budget at the Sixth Regular Meeting of the Business Organization of the Government (Washington, D.C., 1924), 4.Google Scholar

150. See the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act [RTAA] of 1934, the Reorganization Act of 1939, the Employment Act of 1946, and the National Security Act of 1947. Together, these statutes created the expectation of a presidential program. Neustadt, Richard E., “The Presidency at Mid-Century,” Law and Contemporary Problems 21, no. 4 (Autumn 1956): 611;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Rudalevige, Andrew, Managing the President’s Program: Presidential Leadership and Legislative Policy Formulation (Princeton, 2002), chap. 3.Google Scholar For an explanation of how the RTAA altered tariff making based on an assumption of presidential representation, see Schnietz, Karen E., “The Institutional Foundation of U.S. Trade Policy: Revisiting Explanations for the 1934 Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act,” Journal of Policy History 12, no. 4 (October 2000): 417–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

151. The President’s Committee on Administrative Management, for example, defined its reorganization proposals of 1937 in terms of presidential representation: “By democracy we mean getting things done that we, the American people, want done in the general interest. . . . The President is indeed the one and only national officer representative of the entire nation.” President’s Committee on Administrative Management, Report of the President’s Committee on Administrative Management with Studies of Administrative Management in the Federal Government, 74th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington, D.C., 1937), 1. See also Dearborn, John A., “The Foundations of the Modern Presidency: Presidential Representation, the Unitary Executive Theory, and the Reorganization Act of 1939,” Presidential Studies Quarterly (forthcoming, March 2019).Google Scholar

152. Howell and Moe, Relic. Compared to executives of other nations, the U.S. presidency remains low on both the nonlegislative and legislative power scales. Shugart and Carey, Presidents and Assemblies, 155, table 8.2.

153. Keith Whittington distinguishes constitutional construction from interpretation, listing what he views as prominent examples of construction. See Constitutional Construction: Divided Powers and Constitutional Meaning (Cambridge, Mass., 1999), 9–12, table 1.2.

154. Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (P.L. 93–344, 88 Stat. 297, 12 July 1974). As Louis Fisher has written, the 1974 law “anticipated a contest between two budgets: presidential and congressional.” In addition to passing the 1974 law in reaction to the Nixon impoundments, Congress also later tried to require that three cabinet members would report to Congress if the president did not request budgets as high as amounts previously authorized by Congress for certain activities. President Jimmy Carter vetoed the bill in 1978. Fisher, Louis, Constitutional Conflicts Between Congress and the President, 4th ed. (Lawrence, Kans., 1997), 207, 201, 204.Google Scholar For more on impoundments, see Fisher, Presidential Spending Power, chaps. 7 and 8.

155. Fisher, Presidential Spending Power, 51–55. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator would also later be subjected to a requirement of Senate confirmation.

156. Clinton, William J., “Remarks on Signing the Line Item Veto Act and an Exchange with Reporters,” 9 April 1996, The American Presidency Project, Scholar

157. Line Item Veto Act of 1996 (P.L. 104–30, 110 Stat. 1200, 9 April 1996); Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417 (1998). Subsequently, there have been continued efforts from presidents and some in Congress to find a way to pass a line-item veto subject to congressional approval. The debate on the topic “tends to divide less along party lines than Constitutional ideology.” Madison, Lucy, “Fifteen years after its brief existence, line-item veto eludes presidents,” CBS News, 10 August 2012, Scholar Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sponsored both the 2006 and 2012 bills that passed the House. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) was the other sponsor in 2012. These bills would allow the president to identify parts of the budget to cut out and put the recommendations before Congress, but would require Congress’s approval. Bush, George W., “Statement on House of Representatives Passage of Legislative Line Item Veto Legislation,” 22 June 2006, The American Presidency Project,;Google Scholar Kasperowicz, Pete, “In 254–173 vote, House passes ‘expedited line-item veto’ bill to curb spending,” The Hill, 8 February 2012,–173-vote-house-passes-expedited-line-item-veto-bill-to-curb-spending.Google Scholar In proposing a fast-track line-item-veto power, subject to congressional approval, President George W. Bush noted that forty-three governors possessed a version of this power. Bush, George W., “Message to the Congress Transmitting a Legislative Proposal to Give the President a Line-Item Veto,” 6 March 2006, The American Presidency Project, Scholar On the logic of line-item vetoes and their use in most states, see Levinson, Sanford, Framed: America’s Fifty-One Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance (New York, 2012), 172–73.Google Scholar

158. Hulse, Carl, “Trump’s Budget Is Aspirational: Reality in Congress Will Change It,” New York Times, 28 February 2017.Google Scholar Only four regular appropriations bills passed on time between fiscal year 1977 and 2015, necessitating the frequent use of continuing resolutions. Saturno, James V., Heniff, Bill Jr., and Lynch, Megan S., “The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction,” Report 42388, Congressional Research Service, 30 November 2016, 13.Google Scholar Since passage of the 1974 budget law, there have been twenty government shutdowns between 1976 and February 2018. Earl, Jennifer, “A look back at every government shutdown in U.S. history,” Fox News, 9 February 2018, Scholar On the 2011 budget negotiations and their aftermath, see Woodward, Bob, The Price of Politics (New York, 2012).Google Scholar On the supercommittee specifically, see Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112–25, 125 Stat. 240, 2 August 2011); Montgomery, Lori and Kane, Paul, “Supercommittee Announces Failure in Effort to Tame Debt,” Washington Post, 21 November 2011.Google Scholar Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) stated that failure “represents yet another regrettable milestone in Congress’s steady march toward abject in effectiveness.” For a more general discussion of problems with the budget process, see Fisher, Louis, “Presidential Budgetary Duties,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 42, no. 4 (December 2012): 768–70, 783–87;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Thurber, James A., “The Dynamics and Dysfunction of the Congressional Budget Process: From Inception to Deadlock,” in Congress Reconsidered, 10th ed., ed. Dodd, Lawrence C. and Oppenheimer, Bruce I. (Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2012), 334–39.Google Scholar

159. For a perspective on the budgetary performance of presidents and Congress, consider critiques by Louis Fisher. “What has been lost in recent decades is presidential leadership in presenting a responsible national budget.” Fisher, Defending Congress, 199. The presidential “leadership function, eventually enacted into law with the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 to cope with extraordinary deficits, was gravely undermined by the 1974 statute.” “The picture that emerges from 1974 to the present is a lack of the leadership skills in both elected branches needed to protect republican and constitutional government.” Fisher, Louis, “Presidential Fiscal Accountability Following the Budget Act of 1974,” Maine Law Review 67, no. 2 (June 2015): 310.Google Scholar

160. For example, consider George W. Bush’s criticism against the Senate for not acting on the 2006 bill. “I believe Congress can make the President’s job more effective in dealing with bad spending habits if they gave me the line-item veto. . . . The Senate really needs to get the line-item veto to my desk. If Senators from both political parties are truly interested in helping maintain fiscal discipline in Washington, DC, and they want to see budgetary reform, one way to do so is to work in concert with the executive branch and pass the line-item veto.” Bush, George W., “Remarks on the National Economy and the Federal Budget,” 11 October 2006, The American Presidency Project, Scholar On resistance to the reform, one reporter noted that “lawmakers in charge of the Senate Appropriations Committee are not eager to cede any control.” Jim Rutenberg, “President to Press for Line-Item Veto Power,” New York Times, 28 June 2006.

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