House passes Trump’s plan to claw back $15 billion in spending
The House voted along party lines late Thursday to pass a White House proposal that would claw back nearly $15 billion in previously approved government funding.
The House approved the measure in a vote of 210-206, with conservatives calling it a step in the right direction after they ripped into the price tag of the $1.3 trillion spending bill President Trump signed earlier this year.
“President Trump and this Administration are fully committed to protecting taxpayers, and Senate passage of this legislation is critical to reducing wasteful, unnecessary spending and making our Federal Government more efficient, effective, and accountable,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement late Thursday.
Trump had pushed lawmakers earlier this week to vote in favor of the clawback plan, known as the Spending Cuts to Expired and Unnecessary Programs Act, which GOP leaders have been working on for two months.
“The HISTORIC Rescissions Package we’ve proposed would cut $15,000,000,000 in Wasteful Spending! We are getting our government back on track,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.
The push to slash spending stemmed from conversations between Trump and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in April, weeks after Trump signed the omnibus into law.
“The President’s rescissions request is a straightforward approach to begin cleaning up a bloated federal budget and respecting hardworking taxpayer dollars,” McCarthy said in a statement Wednesday.
While the move was welcomed by fiscal hawks, Democrats and a handful of moderates argued it could hinder future budget negotiations and drain unused funds that may prove necessary for programs down the road.
Opponents blasted the administration’s decision to target unobligated funds within the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) — which make up nearly half of the $14.7 billion in rollbacks — alleging the cuts could lead to a loss of coverage if enrollment is higher than expected.
“The nearly $15 billion in rescissions cut numerous efforts to create jobs, grow our economy, and strengthen our communities. It cuts funding for the economic development administration, and for community development financial institutions. Both of which create jobs in rural areas and distress communities,” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, said on the floor.
House GOP leadership dismissed the claim, citing a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report affirming that no child would lose their insurance due to the spending clawback.
“I know some of my colleagues on the other side are feigning concern over the Children’s Health Insurance Program and most of them, by the way, voted against the funding for the CHIP program in the first place when the bill was before Congress to full funding,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said ahead of the vote. “In fact, we overfunded the CHIP program, and so as that surplus money was identified, we made sure that that money will be able to be used to reduce the deficit and go to other things.”
Analysis from the CBO poured cold water on some of the political claims from both sides of the aisle.
The CBO analysis supported Republican arguments that the plan would not affect children’s health. Its analysis found that the rescissions would not affect any spending on children’s health, and would not affect any coverage.
But it also showed that the move would have little impact on spending.
Because the funds in question were unobligated or associated with expired programs, canceling the budget authority to spend them would do little to affect actual spending.
As far as deficits go, the CBO found that the bill would only cut about $1.1 billion in spending over a decade, an infinitesimal amount when compared to annual spending that has already topped $4 trillion, mostly from mandatory spending outside the budgetary process.
“I urge my colleagues to support this modest effort on the discretionary side, but I caution that a sustainable and prosperous fiscal future is contingent on addressing the mandatory side of spending. And the longer Congress takes, the more difficult those solutions will be,” House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said.
Some conservatives hoped that depleting the unused funds would make it harder to pass other spending measures. The unobligated funds in question are frequent sources of budgetary offsets to new spending bills, so depleting them would make it hard to pay for new spending bills.
“Targeting CHIP for a rescission prevents Congress from reinvesting in other priorities like child and maternal health, early childhood education, biomedical research and our community health centers,” Lowey said.
The White House first proposed the rescissions package in May, but revised its request this week. The revision stripped out provisions targeting federal highway funding after a Government Accountability Office analysis raised red flags that such funds may not legally be eligible for rescissions. A growing ebola outbreak in Congo also led the White House to remove provisions slashing emergency ebola funds, which were left over from the 2014-2015 outbreak.
Whether the Senate will move on the measure remains unclear.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Republicans had no excuses not to pass the bill, given that rescissions requested by the president only require a simple majority to pass in the Senate, and are not subject to a filibuster.
“It’s basically money that’s been sitting around unspent, and we’re going to eliminate it,” he said.
But Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee, was noncommittal.
“We’ll evaluate it,” he said ahead of the House vote.
If the Senate passes the rescission bill, it will be the largest single presidential rescission request to pass since 1974, when the current budgetary process was put in place. It would also be the first presidential rescission since former President Clinton’s tenure ended nearly two decades ago.
Updated at 11:50 p.m.
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