On the principal occasions when he did in fact impound, he challenged military spending, withholding funds for the Nike-Zeus missile, then in the early stages of development; and from 1958 to 1960 he spent less than Congress wished (and had appropriated) for maintaining the Marine Corps at full strength and for constructing Polaris submarines. Like Truman, Eisenhower accepted Defense Department recommendations on weapons systems and in 1956 refused to spend moneys that had been made available for the construction of some twenty bombers.


The most visible of President Kennedy’s impoundments was his refusal to spend additional moneys appropriated by Congress for the construction of B-70 high-altitude bombers in 1962. From the beginning of his Presidency, Kennedy had urged that part of the B-70 program be abandoned and other strike systems developed. Supported by his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, but opposed by a substantial number of congressmen, Kennedy in the end consented to the construction of three B-70’s as originally requested but impounded the excess funds Congress had voted.


Lyndon Johnson inherited a budget for fiscal 1964 of $92.6 billion. By 1968, as a result of the Vietnam war, the budget had swollen to more than 135 billion.

Like Truman earlier, Johnson was several times ordered by Congress to impound funds, most notably in 1966 when he cut into the Highway Trust Fund. In the next two years, to fight inflation and fund the war, he held back more than $5 billion from a variety of domestic programs in housing, education, agriculture, and conservation, among others. Virtually all of these impoundments, however, were temporary and represent deferrals because most moneys were released before the end of the fiscal year. Although some programs were cut back or else not permitted to grow beyond already funded levels, no programs were terminated. Congressional opposition to the impoundments was generally mild.


Beginning in fiscal 1969 the federal budget (on President Johnson’s recommendation) became comprehensive—that is, it reported for the first time outlays for social security, the highway trust fund, and other programs not included in past budgets. Under the old accounting system the total appropriation for 1969 would have been $147.4 billion; under the new system it appeared as $186.1 billion. The estimated comprehensive budget for fiscal 1974 is about $269 billion.

Faced through his five years in office with budgets of this size, President Nixon has freely impounded funds to an extent unmatched by any of his predecessors. It is estimated that to date he has withheld more than $30 billion (although some of it has since been released). In doing so he has added several new dimensions to impoundment.

Where earlier Presidents saw impoundment as a lesser string in the Presidential bow and used it sparingly, Mr. Nixon has made it an integral part of his fiscal policy and has used it on a regular and systematic basis. Where earlier Presidents generally reserved funds from defense and construction budgets, leaving domestic social programs virtually untouched except in wartime, Mr. Nixon has specifically drawn his reserves from a broad range of social-welfare projects. Where earlier Presidents cut only selected projects or limited their expansion within established larger programs, Mr. Nixon has used impoundment to terminate total programs to which he is opposed.

In fiscal 1970 Nixon made his deepest cuts in the poverty programs of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In fiscal 1971 he reserved some $13 billion, the bulk of which came from welfare, education, and housing programs. In fiscal 1973 he withheld more than $400 million Congress appropriated for the food-stamp program. He impounded $8 billion allocated for water reclamation after the Congress had overridden his veto of the original appropriation.

In January, 1973, he announced that he would not request funds for fiscal 1974 for the Office of Economic Opportunity and that he intended to reserve all unspent funds in the 1973 budget for that program while phasing it out.

In January, 1973, the Office of Management and Budget reported that the Nixon administration had currently impounded from the 1973 budget $8.7 billion, not including three billion dollars in water-reclamation funds. Drawn from the budgets of ten cabinet-level departments and from nineteen independent agencies, the moneys had been allocated by Congress for urban mass transportion, water and sewer projects, land-conservation programs, the Appalachian regional development program, and Rural Electrification Administration loans.

In February, 1973, $500 million more was withheld from HEW programs funding day-care centers, the treatment of alcoholics and drug addicts, and programs for the elderly. Three months later the administration reserved some $400 million in aid-to-education money. In addition, housing, medical research, and a variety of environmental funds were unspent. As the fiscal year ended in June, 1973, an estimated $18 billion was impounded.