President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE on Tuesday officially asked Congress to rescind $15.4 billion in spending from previously approved funds, the largest single such request from a White House and the first in nearly two decades.
Congress has 45 days to approve the request in a measure that is not subject to a Senate filibuster.
The White House says the clawback is mostly aimed at unobligated funds, such as those leftovers in accounts for defunct programs. Scrapping unobligated funds does not reduce the deficit.
Some of the funds being targeted, however, would reduce expenditures.
“If enacted, these rescissions would decrease Federal outlays in the affected accounts by an estimated $3.0 billion,” Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a letter to the president on the request.
The White House hopes to pressure Democrats to vote for the package by saving more controversial clawbacks, such as those dealing with current spending levels, for a future request.
Democrats cried foul at the notion of canceling recently approved 2018 spending from a bipartisan deal, saying it would breach the agreement and poison the well for future negotiations.
Democrats say that some of the clawbacks in the current proposal are not so innocuous, including some from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
“These Republican rescissions show the hypocrisy of a GOP Congress that insists on tight budgets for children and families while handing enormous, unpaid-for giveaways to corporations and the wealthiest,” House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Raise the debt limit while starting to fix the budget 'Justice for J6' organizer calls on demonstrators to respect law enforcement MORE (D-Calif.) said Monday night.
The White House says the CHIP funds are from two accounts: one in which the spending authorization has already lapsed, and another that has excess funds that are not expected to be used.
“None of the CHIP programs that have just been reauthorized would be impacted in any way should this rescissions package pass,” Mulvaney told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Some of the other categories in the rescission request include $4.3 billion from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program in the Energy Department, which the White House says has not issued a loan since 2011; leftover funds designated for the Ebola outbreak that has since been quashed; and $800 million from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, which the White House says is due to receive an automatic top-up from mandatory spending anyway.
The Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative House caucus, voiced its approval for the package and called for its passage in the Senate, where it faces skepticism from Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally House to act on debt ceiling next week MORE (R-Ky.).
"Instead of making excuses for why keeping our promises is not possible, Mitch McConnell should make every effort to pass this package,” the caucus said in a resolution adopted by its steering committee.
But others have voiced skepticism at the wisdom of raiding the funds.
For example, the $252 million originally appropriated for the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa would come from USAID’s International Disaster Assistance Account, managed by the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. That money is the unspent portion of the $1.2 billion Congress allocated to fight the epidemic overseas.
Jeremy Konyndyk, who headed the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance during the outbreak, said the money was meant to serve as an emergency fund if and when the next deadly disease broke out somewhere around the world. Clawing such a small amount back, Konyndyk said in an interview, would put the world at greater risk of an outbreak without making a significant dent in the debt or deficit.
The money “in effect had the potential to function as something we very, very badly need, which is a contingency fund for significant large-scale disease outbreak,” said Konyndyk, now a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.
“In terms of substantive budget terms, it’s a rounding error, it makes barely a dent in the deficit,” he said. “It’s an optics exercise to say that they are giving back some money, but it’s really foolish ultimately.”
Melanie Zanona contributed to this report. Updated at 2:03 p.m.