Cyclopedia of Congressional Budget Law

U.S. Constitution

U.S. Constitution

Presidential Responsibilities

Section 3: Presidential responsibilities 
Clause 1. State of the Union6.

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union,


Clause 2. Recommendations to Congress

… and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;


Clause 3. Calling Congress into extraordinary session; adjourning Congress

he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment,


Clause 4: Receiving foreign representatives

he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers;


Clause 5: Caring for the faithful execution of the law

he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.


Clause 1. State of the Union

The precedent for the State of the Union to be delivered annually was established by President George Washington.  Since 1790, the phrase “from time to time.” these messages, whether oral or written, have been delivered once a year, though there have been exceptions.

The State of the Union has come to mean a speech in front of a joint session of Congress, usually at the beginning of a session of Congress.  This has not always been the case. In his first State of the Union, President Thomas Jefferson sent a written State of the Union message in 1801. This practice continued until President William Taft last transmittal in 1912. These written messages did, though, correspond to each new Congressional session.

After Taft’s final written State of the Union, President Woodrow Wilson gave a speech to Congress claiming the authority to do so under the  Constitution. This practice was not observed in 1919 and 1920 since Wilson’s health was deteriorating, but President Warren Harding (1921 and 1922) States of the Union and Calvin Coolidge’s first (1923) message were given as speeches.  The remaining messages transmitted pursuant to this section of the Constitution by Coolidge and President Herbert Hoover were in written form.

This practice has remained the norm since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency, with certain exceptions over the years, such as President Harry Truman in 1946 and 1953, when he provided written rather than oral messages.

Also, certain speeches given at the time a State of the Union would be given were not termed as such, but given other names, but served the same general purpose. In 2001, President George W. Bush’s 2001 speech was a “Budget Message”.

This brings up the primary relevance of the State of the Union in the budget process: These messages very often contain budgetary policy information, albeit in very general and primarily rhetorical form. They can be important as indicating the level of importance certain policies included in the President’s budget may be given.

(See State of the Union Addresses and Messages)

Clause 2: Making recommendations to Congress

The formal basis for the State of the Union Address is from the U.S. Constitution:

  • The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Article II, Section 3, Clause 1.

The constitutionally mandated presidential address has gone through a few name changes:

  • It was formally known as the Annual Message from 1790 to 1946.
  • It began to be informally called the “state of the Union” message/address from 1942 to 1946.
  • Since 1947 it has officially been known as the State of the Union Address.

Earlier Annual Messages of the President included agency budget requests and general reports on the health of the economy. During the 20th century, Congress required more-specialized reports on these two aspects, separate from the Annual Message.

  • Budget Message, required by the National Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 (42 Stat. 20) to be delivered to Congress no more than two weeks after Congress convenes in January.
  • Economic Report, required by the Employment Act of 1946 (60 Stat. 23), with a flexible delivery date.

Over time, as the message content changed, the focus of the State of the Union also changed:

  • In the 19th century, the annual message was both a lengthy administrative report on the various departments of the executive branch and a budget and economic message.
  • After 1913, when Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of presenting the message to Congress in person, it became a platform for the President to rally support for his agenda.
  • Technological changes—radio, television, and the Internet—further developed the State of the Union into a forum for the President to speak directly to the American people.

Technological Change

[See U.S. House: History, Art, and Archives]

Clause 3. Calling Congress into extraordinary session; adjourning Congress


This limitation on the exercise of legislative control over the purse has at all times been recognized, though the constitutional means for making effective the legislative control has not been clearly defined. As has been stated, the first limitation of executive power was confined to such revenue measures as imposed a direct burden on the people. Initially, however, the need for such measures was a special need, such as support for war, and this was fully explained by the Crown. Later, when revenue laws became permanent or continuous in operation, the inhibition was extended to the power of the executive to spend—requiring appropriations before public money could be used. The intelligent exercise of this additional control required still further information, and this in the form of an annual report. The “Great Charter” of Holland made it the duty of the executive to appear in person before the assembly whenever he might desire a grant of funds; the most usual method, however, has been to obtain information through a direct representative of the executive or by means of a written statement containing such data as are required by the legislature to pass acts of appropriation.

Long before the American Revolution the English budget had become, in form, an annual report of the executive to the legislature, accompanied by requests for appropriations for the next fiscal period. That this practical question was considered by the framers of the Constitution of the United States appears from the fact that the President is required “from time to time to give to the Congress information on the state of the Union and to recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall deem necessary and expedient.” (Art. II, sec. 3.) It further appears from the fact that in the very paragraph which inhibited the drawing of money out of the Treasury, except “in consequence of appropriations made by law” (Art. I, sec. 9, par. 7), it finally was made mandatory to publish from time to time “a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money.” In this relation a further constitutional power of the Executive may be adverted to, viz, “That he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses or either of them.” Historically the reasons for extraordinary sessions have been set forth in the call, and these reasons have usually been the need for action concerning matters requiring budgetary legislation. [Emphasis added]

[Source: U.S. Congress, The Need for a National Budget: Message from the President of the United States, Submitted by President William Howard Taft, (H. Doc. 62-854) June 27, 1912]

By United States. President’s Commission on Economy and Efficiency, Frederick Albert Cleveland

Clause 4: Receiving foreign representatives

Congressional budget law is expansive, but as of yet, no relevance to the reception of foreign dignitaries is apparent.

Clause 5: Caring for the faithful execution of the law

The fundamental responsibility of the President, the Faithful Execution Clause (also known as the the Take Care  Clause) is requires he follow the laws enacted by Congress regardless of his position on its merits. The President may veto laws with which he disagrees, but should they be enacted over this action, or if their enactment precedes his Presidency, it is of no consequence and this clause requires him to administer the laws “faithfully”.

This is most clearly seen in the requirement that the President submit a submit pursuant to 31 U.S.C. 1105 and his responsibility under section 254 (BBEDCA) and section 5 (S-Paygo) to order sequestration of previously authorized funds when the law requires. 

Perhaps the clearest example of the responsibility of Presidential compliance with the law is through impoundment. Though it is less important than the first nine titles, title X of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 was enacted in response to the perceived abuse of the power of the President to refuse to spend money appropriated by Congress. Though the practice dated back to Thomas Jefferson and his delay in funding certain military expenses, under Richard Nixon, the political atmosphere was such that Congress felt it was being abused and this served as an impetus for the passage of the Act. See A Brief History of Impoundment for more information.


Sec. 901 (BPLA)


Sec. 902 (BPLA)