Senate GOP skeptical of Trump idea to cancel spending

Senate Republicans are reacting tepidly to proposals from President Trump and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that Congress use an arcane budget maneuver to claw back spending from the $1.3 trillion omnibus package passed just last month with bipartisan support.

They say they won’t take the rescission proposal seriously until House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) takes a position on it.


The spending claw-back has been floated in response to dismay from the GOP base over the size of the omnibus, which passed the House less than 24 hours after it was unveiled to the public.

Ryan has yet to speak publicly about the proposal, and some Republican aides say he appears to be skeptical.

Trump and McCarthy first discussed the idea during a phone call this week, according to a senior House GOP source. And the Speaker’s office and White House also have discussed the concept. The source explained that the White House would need to draft the plan and send it to Congress.

“It’s a bit unclear how this would play out since it hasn’t happened in a long time. That said, this is an idea congressional leaders are taking seriously,” said the GOP source.

Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a brief statement: “We are engaged in this conversation with the White House.”

The maneuver is popular with House conservatives because if the claw-back bill passes the House, it could pass the Senate with a simple majority because it is a privileged resolution. The Budget Act of 1974 allows for the process.

But there are a number of problems for Senate Republicans.

They note that the rules would allow Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (R-N.Y.) to force them to take a variety of tough political votes on popular spending programs.

While a Senate parliamentary expert told The Hill that amendments to the rescission package would have to be related to spending and couldn’t veer off into hot policy debates, the rules could give Democrats enough flexibility to create some tough votes.

Perhaps more importantly, Senate Republican sources warn that re-opening the omnibus, which took months and months of discussion to complete, could make it tougher to negotiate future bipartisan spending deals.

“There was a four-corner agreement on the spending cap with the White House’s approval,” said a Senate GOP aide, referring to the two-year budget deal between Senate and House leaders of both parties. “If we try to go back on a deal and go after the domestic spending we don’t like, then why did the Democrats sign off on a deal in the first place?”

Democrats are already blasting Republicans for even considering the move.

“It would completely poison the well to the idea that there can be responsible bipartisan compromise,” said Matthew Dennis, a spokesman for Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Democrats say Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Ryan would in effect break their word if they attempted to change the terms of the deal post-facto.

“Sen. McConnell and Speaker Ryan agreed to an omnibus deal. We’ll soon see if their word is any good,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide.

Not all Senate Republicans are leery of Trump’s plan. A group of conservatives are cheering for it. 

One conservative aide said he expects his boss would likely support it but cautioned that senators have yet to see the details of the proposal. 

Meanwhile, Senate GOP leaders haven’t communicated anything one way or the other about the potential package to GOP conference members. 

GOP sources say there are additional problems with the proposal.

They argue that rescissions were not ever meant to be used on the grand scale that Trump and McCarthy are now talking about now.

These critics say it should be used to pull back funding that can’t be properly absorbed by a program because of a surfeit of funding, a backlog of obligations or other reasons.

James Dyer, the longtime Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, said Congress passed rescissions packages at the end of the Clinton administration but they were much smaller than what Trump and McCarthy are now talking about.

“They were small,” he said. “The reports that are coming out now are talking about undoing all the extra spending in nondefense programs.”

He said rescissions packages are meant to cut “around the edges” such as zeroing out spending “you can’t possibly obligate” because a contract comes in under budget or a program gets terminated.

“If you’re worried about the deficit or some kind of financial imbalance, this is not the type of thing you’re going to exercise in,” he added.

Critics also argue that tasking the Appropriations Committee with the time-consuming task of finding programs to cut doesn’t make sense when the panel is getting such a late start on fiscal year 2019 spending bills because the 2018 omnibus passed months behind schedule.

Republican veterans say the last time a president proposed a high-profile consolidated rescission package was in 1992 under President George H.W. Bush.

That year Bush ultimately signed a bill rescinding $8.2 billion in spending after the House and Senate modified the initial White House proposal.

“There’s only been one consolidated piece of legislation sent by the administration and that was 41’s administration,” said a GOP budget expert, referring to Bush. 

Leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, however, are cheering the plan even as they recognize getting their colleagues on the Senate onboard will be difficult.

“Any plan to seriously tackle spending is great but as usual the high hurdle in the room is the U.S. Senate,” Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) told The Hill on Thursday. “In this case, even 51 votes will be hard to get so I am dying to hear the Senate commit to this project.”

Tags Charles Schumer Donald Trump Kentucky Kevin McCarthy Mitch McConnell Mitch McConnell Nita Lowey Paul Ryan Presidency of Barack Obama Republican Party United States United States federal budget

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