Technocrats of all ideological stripes consistently find the Constitution frustrating. If it weren’t for that pesky document, our benevolent dictators could all pen and phone their way to utopia. But there are good reasons for leaving appropriations to Congress. As Josh Blackman reminded us in an outstanding and comprehensive piece in National Review Online last year, James Madison wrote in Federalist 58 that “this power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.”
Every two years we elect the entire House and one-third of the Senate. There is thus a constant potential check on government expenditures. The fact that Congress rarely checks that spending makes its power no less legally real nor any less constitutionally necessary. And, by the way, judges do not exist to correct subjectively determined deficiencies in the elected branches’ policy-making.
While there are many reasons to complain about the Trump administration’s approach to the Constitution, his decision to end illegal subsidies is exactly right. If defenders of Obamacare want to blame anyone, they can blame their own side. When Democrats controlled the government and could fashion the law how they liked, they provided for annual appropriations. That was their decision. If they want to “fix” that law now, they can either make a deal or win elections. Continuing to violate the Constitution, however, is not a viable choice.