GOP Establishment May Kill Spending Cuts Proposed by Trump

Watchdogs say passage of the bill ‘should be a no brainer…’

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Richard Shelby/IMAGE: CNN via YouTube

(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) With a Friday deadline looming, conservative groups this week are pushing hard for the Senate to take up a $15 billion package of spending cancellations proposed by President Trump.

Known as “rescissions,” the spending maneuver withdraws the prior authority for the federal government to appropriate funds already approved by Congress, but not yet actually spent.

In this particular method of rescissions, a president can formally propose specific cuts to Congress to which Congress can agree by a simple majority of both houses, within a 45-day window, without being forced to overcome ordinary parliamentary hurdles such as a Senate filibuster. (Overcoming a filibuster requires 60 votes, rather than the usual simple majority of 51.)

The 45 days in this case ends on June 22.


In the case of Trump’s proposed savings, the maneuver ought to be easier than usual to accomplish, even though the identified amount of $15 billion is the third-largest since the current budget process was established in 1974.

Trump’s proposed cuts come almost exclusively from funds left over from previous years that wouldn’t be spent anyway for the purposes originally intended.

Let’s repeat that: All Trump is asking is to withdraw permission to spend funds that will not otherwise be spent for their stated purpose.

Still, the cuts are important.

Congress typically uses these phantom accounts to “shift” money to otheraccounts later in the year while claiming they aren’t making deficits bigger.

That’s why conservatives say this rescissions package is important: to take away Congress’s fig leaf and make it harder for legislators to throw around money as the fiscal year draws to a close.

The House agreed to Trump’s rescissions by a tiny 210-206 vote margin on June 7.

But with not a single Senate Democrat showing any sign of supporting the measure, and with Arizona Republican John McCain unlikely to make it to Washington for a vote while battling brain cancer, the bill almost certainly needs every other Senate Republican to vote in favor of it in order to pass.

So far, though, Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama has been openly unenthusiastic about it, and other establishment Republicans on the fence include Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.

Mitch McConnell/Photo by Gage Skidmore

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for his part, has remained publicly neutral on the effort for the past month — saying he would not oppose it, but showing no signs of effort at whipping votes in favor.

One excuse offered for the recalcitrance is that nearly half the rescissions would come from the account of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Even though none of these leftover monies would actually be spent on CHIP anyway (because Congress’s overstated the CHIP needs in earlier years), the political “optics” of “cutting” CHIP funding scares some lawmakers.

Heidi Heitkamp/USDA

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has beaten that drum repeatedly, and politically embattled Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota is citing the CHIP “cuts” as her reason for not supporting the bill.

Collins of Maine in effect acknowledged, however, that the real goal isn’t providing for CHIP, but instead is to keep available a honey pot of “money that could be repurposed.”

A couple of Collins’s fiscally conservative colleagues are accepting none of those “repurposing” excuses, though, and neither are conservative activist groups.

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Mike Lee/Photo by jbouie (CC)

Utah Republican Mike Lee gathered the requisite 20 signatures on a form of “discharge petition” to force the full Senate to vote on the package, and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul released a video saying “it is far past time for Congress to get our fiscal house in order.”

In a press release, the grassroots group FreedomWorks said that “The Senate must revive rescissions as a tool to eliminate government waste and take away the opportunity for Congress to resort to gimmicks by using unobligated funds as spending offsets.”

Its president, Adam Brandon, said passage would “go a long way to reviving the rescissions process that has been curiously absent for the past 17 years. The senate needs to show the American people it can work.”

CNP Action, the sister organization of the conservative leadership umbrella group known as the Council for National Policy, likewise sent out an “action alert” Tuesday urging all concerned citizens to call their senators to urge support for the bill.

The respected, centrist, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said passage of the bill “should be a no brainer,” likening its amount of savings to “the federal budgeting equivalent of loose change in the sofa cushions. It reclaims only 0.002 percent of spending over a decade at a time when permanent trillion-dollar deficits are about to emerge.”

Still, they said, it is far better to reclaim the change than to waste it.

And Heritage Action announced on Monday that it would include the rescissions bill as a “key vote” on its influential legislative scorecard, with senators who don’t support it docked significant points.

The Trump administration is pushing hard for senators to support the bill, with budget director Mick Mulvaney meeting on the issue at a Tuesday lunch with GOP members and with Trump himself presumed to have lobbied for it when he met Monday in person with Shelby and Capito about the larger Appropriations process.