The White House on Tuesday unveiled its package of $15.4 billion in proposed spending cuts. The list of rescissions, as they’re called, includes 38 proposals ranging in size from about $519,000 to more than $5.1 billion. In all, the White House says, the suggested cuts represent the “largest single rescissions request in history” — though they would do little to reduce the federal budget deficit, which is projected to total more than $800 billion this year.
The money targeted by the proposed clawbacks are mostly unused funds left over from past years — officially known as “unobligated balances” — but the White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the rescissions would reduce federal expenditures by about $3 billion.
The White House also says it plans other rescission requests that would cancel spending approved under the $1.3 trillion deal passed by Congress earlier this year. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed conservative group, on Monday released recommendations for $45 billion in rescissions from the omnibus spending bill.
Nearly half of the current cuts, or $7 billion, would come from the health insurance program for low-income children. That includes more than $5 billion in expired funding from fiscal 2017 and nearly $2 billion from an emergency fund the White House doesn’t expect states to use. White House officials say that the cuts would not affect the Children’s Health Insurance Program or its coverage of about 9 million children — but, in an indication of just how politically sensitive these cuts could be, they were left off of a formal release highlighting some items in the rescissions package.
Roll Call notes that “Congress regularly rescinds CHIP funds, including almost $7 billion in the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending law, but typically uses the money to pay for other health-related priorities.” Rescinding the funds this way would mean simply cutting the spending rather than using the leftover funds to pay for other spending.
What’s on the Trump Administration’s List of Spending Cuts
Besides the $7 billion from CHIP, other cuts requested include:
- $4.3 billion from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which the White House says has not made a loan since 2011
- $800 million from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation program
- $252 million left over from $1.2 billion Congress designated to respond to the 2015 Ebola outbreak. The epidemic is over, but an official who headed the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance at USAID during the outbreak told The Hill that the remaining money could serve as a much-needed emergency fund for a future disease outbreak. “In terms of substantive budget terms, it’s a rounding error, it makes barely a dent in the deficit,” Jeremy Konyndyk said. “It’s an optics exercise to say that they are giving back some money, but it’s really foolish ultimately.”
- $133 million from an unemployment insurance extended benefits program for railroad workers that the White House says expired in 2012
Can the Rescissions Package Pass?
Under the process created by the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, Congress will have 45 days to act on the president’s rescissions requests, and can approve them with simple majority votes, meaning that the Senate can’t block them with a filibuster. The funds being targeted are frozen until Congress acts, or if it fails to approve the request in time then the funds must be released.
House Republicans hope to pass the rescissions this month — “We will get the rescissions package passed,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday — but the outlook is the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority, is less certain.
If these rescissions fail to pass the Senate, the administration’s other proposed cuts would likely be put on hold. “If this one doesn’t get through I think it does kill any future rescission packages until we have midterm elections,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) said, according to Roll Call.
What They’re Saying About It
President Trump: “Our moral duty to the taxpayer requires us to make our government leaner and more accountable.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY): “Let’s be honest about this: @POTUS & the GOP are looking to tear apart CHIP, hurting middle-class families & low-income children, to appease the most conservative special interests & feel better about blowing up the deficit to give the wealthy & biggest corps huge tax breaks.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD): “It defies logic that if you’re going to rescind money that’s not being used, that the only place to look is [nondefense program such as] Medicare and Medicaid. Their logic is they want to cut nondefense discretionary spending — whatever it is. And we’re obviously opposed to that as a focus.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK): “I don’t understand why we would go after CHIP. It makes no sense to me.”
G. William Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former director of the Senate Budget Committee: “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.”
Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: “Today’s specific rescission package will have little effect on the budget deficit since the proposed cuts are relatively small and most are to funds that will never be spent anyway. But every little bit helps, and getting in the habit of supporting spending cuts without putting the money toward new policies is a step in the right direction.”
Molly E. Reynolds, fellow at the Brookings Institution: “By including a rescission of roughly $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program ... Republicans are giving their Democratic colleagues more political cover to oppose the package. Rather than be tagged as opposing cuts to wasteful federal spending, Democrats can claim they are standing up for a popular program that provides health care to kids.”
Final Factoid of the Day, via Politico:
“Former President Bill Clinton was the last president to propose rescissions. His three requests totaled just $128 million, a fraction of Trump’s request.”