In March, Republicans were outraged that their party, with control of both houses of Congress and the presidency, would pass an omnibus spending bill that increased federal spending by $143 billion. In April, the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel proposed using a little-known law to rescind some of the spending. Now it looks as though the Trump Administration is actually going to do it.
Politico reports that the White House plans to ask Congress on Tuesday to rescind $15 billion in spending. The figure is higher than the $11 billion originally proposed by the White House, but lower than the increase in spending over this year’s original discretionary spending caps.
“It's better than nothing,” Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), a member of Freedom Caucus, told The Hill. Davidson added that the savings might be applied toward Trump’s infrastructure spending requests.
Rescinding congressionally authorized spending is allowed by the 1974 Impoundment Act. As The Resurgent described in April, the president can order the rescission of specific funds under the little-used act. Congress must then approve the rescission within 45 days. Unlike most bills, the Senate can approve the rescission request with a simple majority vote that is not subject to a filibuster. When the request is submitted, the money is frozen for 45 days or until Congress rejects the measure.
Politico notes that the $15 billion in proposed cuts will not come from the 2018 omnibus bill, but will consist of unspent money from previous years. Republican leaders resisted the temptation to target the omnibus, which was negotiated with Democrat leaders. Congressional leaders were concerned that breaking the deal with Democrats would endanger future negotiations. Instead, the funds will be cut from money that was authorized but never spent on programs such as the 2009 stimulus, Obamacare and the Ebola response.
The cuts represent a minute portion of the federal budget, but passage may still present a challenge for Republicans. The House overwhelmingly approves of the cuts, but margins are slimmer in the Senate. The 51-vote Republican majority can be stymied by only two senators crossing the aisle to vote with Democrats against the request.
“This is not a deficit reduction exercise, but more of a public relations exercise to soothe the base and convince them that the White House is fiscally responsible,” said G. William Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “If they are finding unused budget authority and putting that in a special package to Congress as appropriators are trying to put together the [fiscal] 2019 bill, it may have the effect of creating more spending for 2019 rather than less.”
The cuts will barely be a blip on the federal deficit, which is slated to increase to more than $1 trillion annually by the time Trump leaves office in 2020. The massive cuts needed to eliminate the deficit require reform to entitlement programs such Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Healthcare and Social Security alone make up 53 percent of the federal budget.
Nevertheless, any decrease in government spending is a positive step as well as a rare one. Republicans should be applauded if they can pull it off.