Trump plan to claw back $15 billion in spending in peril

Trump plan to claw back $15 billion in spending in peril
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops MORE's plan to claw back billions of dollars in previously approved government spending is facing a likely death in the Senate as lawmakers eye a vote this week.

Senators have until Friday if they want to pass the package to claw back roughly $15 billion in spending with only a simple majority that allows them to avoid a Democratic filibuster. The measure narrowly cleared the House last week.

Supporters of the measure have no room for error if they want to get the bill to Trump’s desk. With GOP Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJuan Williams: Time for boldness from Biden Democrats lead in three battleground Senate races: poll Republican Scott Taylor wins Virginia primary, to face Elaine Luria in rematch MORE (Ariz.) absent as he battles brain cancer, potential Republican votes are capped at 50 — and no Democrats have indicated they’ll support the legislation.

ADVERTISEMENT

Republican leaders are acknowledging they do not currently have the votes locked down.

"We're talking to members,” said Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynGOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday New legislation required to secure US semiconductor leadership GOP skeptical of polling on Trump MORE (R-Texas). “That’s what we're going to be working on the next few days.”

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties GOP skeptical of polling on Trump MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, separately told The Hill “we’ll see. I couldn’t predict at this point.”

Conservatives and the White House are pressing forward on the plan, even as they appear short of votes.

Passing the package would hand Trump and conservatives a needed victory after fiscal hawks tore into the price tag of the $1.3 trillion omnibus bill that Congress passed in March.

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate panel votes 21-1 to back Justice IG measure over Graham objections Senators offer bill to expand charitable giving tax break Overnight Energy: Senate passes major lands conservation bill | Mnuchin ordered to give Native American tribes full stimulus funding | Key Republican jeopardizes Trump consumer safety nominee MORE’s office said Monday that the Utah Republican had gathered enough support to force the rescissions package to the floor. Lee needed to get signatures from one-fifth of the Senate, or roughly 20 lawmakers.

Lee’s office predicted that a move to discharge the legislation out of committee and to the entire Senate would likely take place on Thursday, pushing the fight over the clawback plan down to the wire. 

Supporters of the clawback measure are stepping up pressure ahead of the showdown on the Senate floor as they try to sway key holdouts.

Lee and a group of conservative GOP senators are holding a press conference on Tuesday to try to bolster support ahead of the spending fight.

Meanwhile, the conservative group Heritage Action for America announced on Monday that it would key-vote the rescissions package in an effort to get Republicans to vote “yes." 

“If the Republican Party is truly concerned with excessive spending and debt, the Impoundment Control Act provides the best immediate opportunity to roll back decades of overspending by the Washington Establishment,” the group said.

It added that supporting the rescissions package would show “midterm election voters that they will govern responsibly and steward taxpayer dollars if re-elected to the majority.”

Trump met with Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyFights over police reform, COVID-19 delay Senate appropriations markups Trump's push for major infrastructure bill faces GOP opposition Watchdogs express concern to lawmakers about ability to oversee coronavirus relief funds MORE (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoMcConnell makes strong call for masks, saying there should be no stigma Ernst sinks vote on Trump EPA nominee GOP: Trump needs a new plan MORE (R-W.Va.), a member of the panel, at the White House on Monday afternoon about the larger appropriations process.

The closed-door meeting comes after White House budget director Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneySupreme Court ruling could unleash new legal challenges to consumer bureau Bottom line White House goes through dizzying change in staff MORE met with the entire GOP caucus last week try to build support for the package.

Capito and Shelby are among several lawmakers who remain publicly undecided on whether they’ll ultimately support the rescissions package.

Shelby said afterward that he was still questioning whether the cuts are "optics" or "substance."

Capito, meanwhile, pointed to cuts to an energy loan program that she said is “useful” to her home state. 

In addition to the two senators, several other members of the Appropriations Committee have yet to say if they’ll support the bill, including GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Stagwell President Mark Penn says Trump is losing on fighting the virus; Fauci says U.S. 'going in the wrong direction' in fight against virus GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday Senate passes extension of application deadline for PPP small-business loans MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators will have access to intelligence on Russian bounties on US troops Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Senators push to limit transfer of military-grade equipment to police MORE (Alaska).

Collins said she's still reviewing the measure, but indicated that funding decisions should be made by Congress.

"In general I believe that it is a congressional prerogative as we do the appropriations bill to identify money that could be repurposed," Collins said.

Senate Republicans can’t afford any defections if they want to pass the rescissions package without help from Democrats. Their narrow majority in the chamber gives the bill long odds after it cleared the House in a 210-206 vote. No Democrats in the House supported the measure, while 19 Republicans voted against it.

Currently, no Democrats who are up for reelection this year in states won by Trump in 2016 have said they will support the bill, raising the likelihood that Republicans will have to rely solely on GOP votes.

The White House first proposed the rescissions package in May, but revised its request earlier this month. The revised measure dropped the amount of spending expected to be clawed back from roughly $15.4 billion to approximately $14.7 billion.

The revision stripped out provisions targeting federal highway funding after a Government Accountability Office analysis warned it may not legally be eligible for rescissions. A growing Ebola outbreak in Congo also led the White House to remove provisions slashing emergency funds to combat Ebola.

But critics of the plan have seized on the fact that approximately half of the spending, $7 billion, comes from two accounts in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The administration, backed up by an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, says the rescissions would not impact CHIP spending over the next decade but that’s done little to stem criticism over its inclusion.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (N.D.), one of the Democrats who most frequently votes with Republicans, said she would oppose the legislation over the CHIP funding.

Collins also noted after the meeting with Mulvaney that she “remained concerned” about CHIP rescissions, adding that even if the funding wasn't needed it could be repurposed.