Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid

Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid
© Greg Nash

Top appropriators from both parties on Friday warned the White House against attempting to claw back foreign aid funds, saying any effort on that front could complicate spending talks aimed at preventing a government shutdown in the fall.

The White House is preparing a formal request to Congress to rescind $4.3 billion funds already appropriated to 10 foreign aid accounts.

“At a time when threats from Iran are increasing, ISIS has not been vanquished, the Administration is putting significant pressure on the regime in Venezuela, and aiming to curtail the North Korea nuclear program, the rescission package is particularly concerning,"  Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on police brutality next week McCabe, Rosenstein spar over Russia probe Rosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony MORE (R-S.C.) and Rep. Hal RogersHarold (Hal) Dallas RogersBottom line Appropriators face crucial weekend to reach deal Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week MORE (R-Ky) wrote in a letter to President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer employees critique EPA under Trump in new report Fired State Department watchdog says Pompeo aide attempted to 'bully' him over investigations Virginia senator calls for Barr to resign over order to clear protests MORE.

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Graham, a close Trump ally, chairs the Senate's appropriations subcommittee that covers the State Department and foreign aid, and Rogers is the top Republican on the same subcommittee in the House.

"A move to rescind funding absent policy input from the Department of State and USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] only undermines our national security interests and emboldens our adversaries,” they added. “We strongly urge you to reconsider this approach.”

Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyJulián Castro launches PAC to support progressive candidates Lawmakers call on VA to remove swastikas from headstones in veterans cemeteries House Democrats object to Trump sending ventilators to Russia MORE (D-N.Y.), who leads the House Appropriations Committee, also warned of consequences for the move.

“The Trump administration’s continued efforts to illegally withhold funding that Congress has approved subverts critical norms in our democratic process," Lowey said in a statement to The Hill on Friday. "We are insisting that the administration spend the appropriated foreign assistance funds, and are working with GAO [Government Accountability Office] to make sure the law is followed.”

The rescission request could end up freezing the funds through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, even if Congress chooses to reject the request like it did with a similar White House effort last year. 

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The GAO determines what funds can be frozen by request, and which ones must remain available while Congress considers the request.

The funds in question, which include unobligated money from fiscal years 2017-2019, amount to several billion dollars for international peacekeeping, monitoring illegal drugs, economic development, health and funding the United Nations, among other issues.

Congressional Democrats last week lashed out at the administration after hearing the White House had frozen those funds while waiting for the State Department to provide updates on how much money was left in each of the accounts. The White House Office of Management and Budget unfroze the funds Aug. 9 after receiving the update, according to a senior administration Official.

The White House said it would not request rescissions for programs that President Trump requested in his budget proposal for the current fiscal year. 

While the White House has not announced whether it will submit the rescission request, Lowey said that if it goes forward it could affect the process of appropriating funds for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. 

"It is obvious that every time Mick MulvaneyMick Mulvaney12 things to know today about coronavirus Mulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus The Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic MORE thumbs his nose at Congress, he erodes trust and makes the fiscal year 2020 appropriations process more difficult,” Lowey said, referring to Trump's acting White House chief of staff. 

Congress and Trump agreed to higher spending levels for the 2020 fiscal year, but lawmakers still need to pass spending bills to keep the government open in the new fiscal year. Congressional appropriators are hoping to pass the two largest bills — defense and labor, health and human services, and education — alongside a stopgap measure for the rest of the government.

Further complicating the talks is Trump's request for border wall funding, an issue that led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history this past year. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell blocks resolution condemning Trump over treatment of protesters House Democrat demands answers from Secret Service about role breaking up White House protests Pelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHouse punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA Frustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, called on Trump to withdraw the request and put the money toward preventing gun violence.

"We urge you to support spending funds you have requested for the border wall, on other pressing needs such as proven initiatives that will address the threats of gun violence and white supremacist extremism in America," the two senators wrote in a letter to Trump, referencing the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

"Specifically, we ask you to consider supporting counter-violent extremism programs, domestic terrorism investigations at the FBI, gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and support services in schools and communities, such as school counselors," they added.

Updated at 4:03 p.m.