Congress would be smart to accept Trump's life raft on spending

Congress would be smart to accept Trump's life raft on spending
© Greg Nash

Increasingly unhappy with the $1.3 trillion omnibus he signed last month, President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE is reportedly working on a package of budget rescissions to submit to Congress.

To most outside of Washington, budget rescissions are an arcane tool that belongs to the policy wonks, and less to the public arena. But the power of the president to suggest budget rescissions to Congress represents a tangible way in which the executive can influence Congress when it comes to spending.

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Very simply, rescissions are spending cuts. The president cannot independently cut spending — that power is reserved for Congress, as they control the purse strings — but under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, the president has the authority to propose rescissions to Congress. Congress can then decide whether or not they will approve the president’s request.

 

President Ford was the first president to exercise this authority, proposing nearly $8 billion in cuts. Congress agreed to rescind 16 percent of what he proposed. President Carter followed suit, winning 44 percent of the $6 billion he proposed to be cut.

The high-water mark for rescissions came under President Reagan, who proposed more than $23 billion in spending cuts, and Congress rescinded more than 65 percent of his request.

When it comes to the recently passed omnibus, however, why would Congress agree to rescind spending that it has just approved?

It is not a guarantee they will, though House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthy10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable Furious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Five ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble MORE (R-Calif.) is apparently working with Trump to outline a rescissions package. But it could be the case that after approving their giant spending bill last month, Republicans in Congress are feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse.

After passing a 2,232-page bill that no one read, it seems everyone is only just now finding out what was in it. Voters have expressed outrage that the bill fully funds Planned Parenthood, after Republicans promised for decades that, if given control of the government, they would axe. Sanctuary cities receive full funding, as does ObamaCare, while the bill contains a gun control provision that, according to Gun Owners of America, threatens to disarm law-abiding Americans. In addition, 24 unrelated bills were added to the monster package, without debate or amendments.

But aside from sweeping policy measures, the bill also funds programs that conservatives have, for years, found anathema to their policy priorities, not to mention fiscal discipline.

The bill provides over $50 million to promote international family planning and reproductive health, $200 million for promoting democracy development in Europe, and millions for environmental programs at the United Nations, development assistance to China, military aid to Vietnam, and scholarships for students in Egypt.

And, in perhaps the coup de grace of irony, the bill funds border security — just not in the United States. Instead of funding Trump’s border wall, Congress chose instead to fund border walls in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia.

Conservatives are rightly outraged by what their Republican Congress has given them. Chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsEx-Ukraine ambassador arrives to give testimony GOP seeks to gain more control of impeachment narrative Conservative lawmakers demand Schiff's recusal from Trump impeachment inquiry MORE (R-N.C.) labeled the bill the “polar opposite” of what “Republicans promised to fight for.” National Review called it a “disgrace,” an “embarrassment” and a “legislative waste.”

Given all of this, rescissions may provide a way for Republicans in Congress to claw back a modicum of credibility ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Despite holding record-breaking majorities in the Congress, Republicans are already fearing a possible “blue wave” in November. Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump again vetoes resolution blocking national emergency for border wall Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey MORE (R-Ky.) is already lowering expectations for Republican performance.

A quick look at the numbers, particularly in the Senate, reveals how poorly Republicans have managed this majority. With 26 Democrats running for re-election and only six Republicans doing the same, Senate Republicans hold the largest electoral majority in history. Moreover, of the six Republican seats, five are all but shoo-ins for the Republicans to hold.

Yet, by failing to keep their years-long promises to voters, refusing to work with a president that is far more popular than they are, and, finally, sticking voters with a trillion-dollar spending bill that is the equivalent to canine refuse, Republicans are limping into the midterms, clinging to tax reform and hoping voters won’t notice the rest.

The president is throwing Congress a life raft with a package of rescissions that will hopefully restore a small amount of fiscal sanity to a Congress that has, when it comes to spending, lost its mind. They would do well to take it.   

Rachel Bovard (@RachelBovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint aimed at promoting limited government.