Trump requests $15.4B spending clawback

Trump requests $15.4B spending clawback
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders 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.

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“If enacted, these rescissions would decrease Federal outlays in the affected accounts by an estimated $3.0 billion,” Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyMeadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House 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 PelosiNJ governor calls for assessment of coronavirus response after crisis abates Overnight Health Care: Global coronavirus cases top 1M | Cities across country in danger of becoming new hotspots | Trump to recommend certain Americans wear masks | Record 6.6M file jobless claims Hillicon Valley: Zoom draws new scrutiny amid virus fallout | Dems step up push for mail-in voting | Google to lift ban on political ads referencing coronavirus 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 McConnellDemocrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Top GOP lawmakers push back on need for special oversight committee for coronavirus aid Stocks move little after record-breaking unemployment claims 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.