The White House can — and should — bypass Congress to kill Obama-era spending

The White House can — and should — bypass Congress to kill Obama-era spending
© Twitter: Joe Biden

Recent headlines are screaming about the Trump administration’s alleged attempt to “kill $3 billion in foreign aid,” preventing a tidal wave of year-end spending by the State Department. The administration has yet to confirm this is their plan. But if it were, would it really be the end of the world?

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE ran on a platform of decreasing and reordering our spending priorities, focusing on what is good for making America great. Changing the status quo spending at the State Department, which has remained largely the same since he took office, should not come as a shock to the swamp.

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Under current law, these cuts are legal. Using a process called rescissions, the White House can propose funding cuts to Congress. Congress can then vote on legislation to implement the cuts.

 

But here’s the trick. Normally, the president’s rescissions expire if Congress doesn’t act within 45 days. But, with less than 45 days left in fiscal year 2018, Congress would need to affirmatively act to prevent these cuts from taking place, instead of just letting them expire.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCorker to introduce resolution holding Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi's death This week: Trump, Dems set to meet amid funding fight Congress digs in for prolonged Saudi battle MORE (R-Tenn.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has vowed to challenge the administration if they take such a step. He wouldn’t be the first Republican senator to do so. Recall Trump’s failed $15 billion rescissions package from earlier this year, where the president’s attempt at forcing some fiscal austerity was thwarted at the last minute by fellow Republican, Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrNRCC breach exposes gaps 2 years after Russia hacks Hillicon Valley: Ecuador says 'road is clear' for Assange to leave embassy | Panel questioned Bannon on Cambridge Analytica | Trump aide says US knew about arrest of Huawei exec | Judges grill DOJ lawyers on AT&T merger appeal Bannon interviewed with Senate Intelligence panel on Cambridge Analytica: report MORE (R-N.C).

Corker’s outrage aside (he is retiring in December, after all), State Department spending is in dire need of review. The agency itself wasn’t reauthorized for over a decade, and then at the last-minute a bill was signed by President Obama in December 2016 without any amendments and very little debate.

But this is a new administration, with different priorities. At a minimum, good governance mandates a review of the millions allocated to hardly-heard-of and hardly-overseen multinational organizations.

For example, should the US really be spending $33 million on unspecified programs of the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) under the “international disaster assistance” account with the intentionally vague purpose description “support to FAO activities worldwide”? It is baffling that swaths of cash should be given so loosely to international organizations while Congress frequently has to pass “emergency” spending packages to pay for disaster assistance at home.

Or how about the $21 million from the “economic support fund” account going to the International Organization for Migration slated to “Support the inclusion for Peace Activity that aims to foster social and economic inclusion of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities that have been disproportionately affected by conflict”?

Not that these are independently bad programs, but in both cases, this funding is not clearly specified, not well-monitored, and has an unclear benefit to the American people. At the very least, those running these programs should be required to consistently make the case for the dollars they spend.

This problem exists among many lesser-known agencies and programs financed by American taxpayers. Take for example, the Office of Transition Initiatives run out of USAID that is supposed to finance development in countries transitioning from authoritarianism to democracy but instead has been found to be financing television programs promoting “alternative family structures” on Macedonian television.

It is not abnormal for large buckets of money to remain unspent at the end of the fiscal year. Former Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.), infamous for his “wastebook,” reminded everyone of the perpetuity of some pots of congressionally authorized funds. But if the money is not yet obligated less than 40 days away from the end of the fiscal year, we should really be asking if the money is actually necessary. In the case of many of our international assistance programs funded through Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the answer is no.

Programs that aren’t given proper guidance and oversight from Congress are instead left to the devices of the bureaucrats at the State Department. Given this, it’s no wonder that the State Department and other various agencies have financed a pro-left agenda around the world, promoting cultural values that undermine nation-states’ sovereignty rather than providing traditional foreign assistance.

Many more examples abound, but the priorities of the former administration are not those of this one. For conservatives, it is positive to hear of proposed changes hopefully forthcoming to more than $3 billion of the nearly $40 billion foreign assistance budget.

Republicans should not be afraid of rescissions. If Congress is unwilling to do its job of controlling the purse, the White House absolutely can and should propose cuts that align with its priorities. This administration has every right to redirect spending away from the previous administration’s priorities. After all, it’s what the American people voted for.

Robby Stephany Smith is assistant director for policy at the nonprofit Conservative Partnership Institute. She most previously military legislative assistant for Utah Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP fights piling up for McConnell Corker to introduce resolution holding Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi's death This week: Trump, Dems set to meet amid funding fight MORE, joining the office's national security team's work while he served on the Armed Services Committee, and for Texas Reps. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingRare bipartisanship in lame duck Congress battling the ‘WTO’ of insurance regulation On The Money: Markets roiled by trade tensions | Rally on hopes of Fed pause on rate hikes | Senate sends two-week spending measure to Trump | Consumer bureau pick confirmed | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 McHenry to lead GOP on banking panel, duel with Maxine Waters MORE Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresRep. Mike Johnson wins race for RSC chairman GOP approves rule for Don Young Texas lawmaker: GOP facing funding disadvantage MORE.