Top Democrat raises alarm on White House's foreign aid freeze

Top Democrat raises alarm on White House's foreign aid freeze
© Greg Nash

The House’s top appropriator on Thursday raised alarm over the White House budget office’s freeze on foreign aid funds, saying the move could be illegal.

“This administration seems determined to ignore the will of Congress and undermine American leadership. I will do everything in my power to stop this illegitimate action taken by the administration,” said Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Pelosi: Israel's Omar-Tlaib decision 'a sign of weakness' Lawmakers blast Trump as Israel bars door to Tlaib and Omar MORE (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

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The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Saturday sent a letter to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development requesting updated information on foreign aid accounts and freezing them temporarily. 

The accounts relate to international peacekeeping, monitoring illegal drugs, development, peacekeeping and health, among other issues. They would not affect programs outlined in Trump's budget proposal.

While OMB says it will reevaluate the “pause” on the use of funds as soon as it receives information on the accounts, critics see the move as an attempt to block congressionally appropriated foreign aid.

“These funds were appropriated by overwhelming bipartisan majorities after lengthy negotiations between the House, the Senate, and the White House,” said Lowey.

“Not to mention, President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE signed into law the legislation that includes these funds, which are essential to promoting U.S. global leadership and protecting the security of the American people,” she added.

The point is a particularly sore one given that Congress overwhelmingly rejected Trump’s budget proposal, which would have slashed State Department funding by about a third.

Lowey raised the prospect that the move was an illegal violation of the Impoundment Control Act.

Last year, OMB requested that Congress rescind previously unobligated funds, but Congress blocked the move. The OMB request checking in on State Department accounts could be the first step in a new rescissions process.

With the fiscal year ending in just 55 days and Congress away until Sept. 9 for its August recess, supporters of foreign aid fret that a new rescission request could block the funds on procedural grounds.

The White House is able to block the use of some funds temporarily while Congress responds to its rescission request.