Trump to Congress: Offset Disaster Relief With Cuts to Agency Spending

Evan Vucci / AP

President Trump on Friday asked Congress to cut federal agency spending by $11 billion and consider further reductions to their fiscal 2018 appropriations to help offset the costs of emergency disaster relief in the wake of several major hurricanes and wildfires.

The cuts the White House suggested would result from the cancellation of $11 billion in funds already appropriated by Congress but not yet obligated by the agencies. The bulk of those reductions would come from the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Loan Program and the Education Department’s future spending on Pell grants.

In addition to those cancellations, the White House said Congress should identify other ways to reduce normal spending allocated to federal agencies.

“In order to offset increases to the new emergency spending we are requesting, the Congress should also consider designating offsets from base appropriations as an emergency,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said in a letter to congressional leaders. He added that if Congress had already planned to account for the cancellations in its fiscal 2018 spending bills, the administration would “work with the Appropriations Committee to find reductions elsewhere if needed.”

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In its request, Mulvaney asked Congress for $44 billion in additional emergency funding for relief efforts ongoing after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as devastating wildfires in California. Trump has already signed two emergency spending bills to help with recovery efforts, which totaled more than $51 billion. Most of the new funds would go toward the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration’s relief efforts. The administration requested $12 billion for the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Community Development Block Grant program, which Mulvaney said would lead to competition that incentivizes better results. The request also included nearly $5 billion to repair and replace facilities and equipment belonging to federal agencies that were damaged during the storms.

“This year's Atlantic hurricane season has resulted in historic, widespread destruction that continues to affect the lives of millions of Americans,” Mulvaney wrote. While the road to recovery from these devastating forces of nature will be long and difficult, the president, myself, and all members of the administration remain steadfast in our commitment to not only help our communities recover, but to rebuild stronger than before.”

Normally, emergency disaster relief spending does not accompany offsets. Mulvaney said, however, the administration said such spending reductions would be “prudent.”

“These proposed spending reductions are not intended to offset any specific component of this request or of previous requests,” Mulvaney wrote. “We look forward to working with you to find the most appropriate time and manner for the Congress to consider these offsets.”

The White House also suggested Congress extend budget caps on mandatory spending by two years to defray the new emergency spending. Trump’s $44 billion request fell far short of the $94 billion Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked for earlier this week.

In his letter, Mulvaney once again reiterated the administration’s desire for Congress to appropriate $1.6 billion so the Homeland Security Department can begin construction on a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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