The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that President Trump signed in March has sparked a small revolt among the Republican faithful. The bill, which the president threatened to veto because it lacked funding for his wall project, was met with widespread derision from conservatives as a surrender to Democrats on government spending. Now, it looks as though there may be a way to fix the situation.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel put forth a proposal that Republicans use the 1974 Impoundment Act. The law allows the president to order the rescission of specific funds as long as the rescission is approved by Congress within 45 days.
The real beauty of the plan is that, unlike the earlier spending bill, it is not subject to a Democrat filibuster. Rescission requests only require a simple majority vote. With a 51-vote majority that includes several renegades, this may not be an easy task, but neither is it an insurmountable obstacle.
With the clock ticking, some Republicans appear to be taking the idea seriously. The Washington Post reported that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was working with the Trump Administration to implement the plan. The president may send a rescission request to Congress after the spring recess.
Also writing in the Wall Street Journal, James Freeman says that Speaker Paul Ryan, typically a deficit hawk, favors the approach. “Mr. Ryan,” Freeman says, “likes the idea of paring back the huge spending hikes in the recently enacted budget bill.”
Freeman also cites a “longtime Washington hand” who explained in an email that the impoundment plan advantages has other advantages in addition to avoiding filibusters. In the Senate, the motion in favor of the rescission is automatically ruled in order and given a fast track in front of other business. The motion is also limited one hour of debate.
There are advantages in the House as well. The bill would be fast-tracked and only one-fifth of House members could force a vote.
Perhaps most importantly, the impoundment plan would force moderate Republicans to take a stand. “Getting 50 Republican votes in the Senate will be made easier because they will be forced into an up-or-down vote—not the usual forest of complexity where they can hide in the tall grass,” Freeman's source wrote. “Ditto for House Republican appropriators.”
It isn't clear how much of the $1.3 trillion that Republicans would be able – or willing – to cut. Prime targets for cuts can be found in the Heritage Foundation's report on the omnibus. These include Obamacare subsidies to insurance companies and federal transportation spending increases.
While reductions to the spending bill would be a welcome start, discretionary spending is not the largest part of the federal budget. Most deficit spending is driven by entitlement spending, which is automatic and not subject to congressional appropriations.
So far, under President Trump the deficit has dramatically increased. The deficit for the first half of the 2018 fiscal year is $78 billion higher than at this point in 2017 when the annual deficit was at $666 billion. The 2016 deficit, the last year of the Obama Administration, was $587 billion.
Republicans would not be able to eliminate the deficit through the rescission process, but they could reduce it. Any cuts would be a morale booster for conservatives and would help Republicans to stave off a possible blue wave in November.