House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gives a news conference at a hotel in Honduras on Aug. 10, where she is traveling as part of a U.S. congressional delegation exploring immigration challenges.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gives a news conference at a hotel in Honduras on Aug. 10, where she is traveling as part of a U.S. congressional delegation exploring immigration challenges. Elmer Martinez/AP

Budget Talks Will Break Down if White House Bypasses Congress to Cut Foreign Aid, Pelosi Warns

The Democratic leader stresses that the State Department must be allowed to continue spending money while Congress considers any rescission request, per a GAO legal analysis.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week warned officials in the Trump administration that if the White House moves forward with plans to cut diplomatic spending outside the normal appropriations process, it could imperil a recently signed two-year budget agreement.

Earlier this month, the Office of Management and Budget asked the State Department to pause spending for the U.S. Agency for International Development until the agency could provide an accounting of more than a dozen accounts. The White House eventually lifted that pause, but ordered the State Department to abide by a “daily cap” on spending. The administration attempted, and eventually abandoned, a similar effort to avoid spending appropriated diplomatic funding last year.

In an August 16 letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Pelosi confirmed that the White House is indeed preparing a rescission proposal for USAID and said such a plan would be dead on arrival in the House.

“I can assure you that the House of Representatives will not take affirmative legislative action,” she wrote.

Pelosi said that absent passage by both chambers of Congress, the rescission package, which could target between $2 billion and $4 billion in foreign aid money, would be illegal, citing legal analysis by the Government Accountability Office.

“We conclude that the [Impoundment Control Act of 1974] does not permit the withholding of funds through their date of expiration,” GAO wrote. “Though the ICA permits the president to withhold amounts from obligation under limited circumstances, the amounts are rescinded only if Congress takes affirmative legislative action through the constitutional processes of bicameralism and presentment.”

According to GAO, the law requires the executive branch to continue to spend obligated funding even during the 45-day period during which lawmakers can consider the rescission proposal. If Congress does not act within those 45 days, the rescission is denied. This requirement is particularly important as the deadline for a forthcoming rescission request would occur after the Sept. 30 deadline to spend funds appropriated for fiscal 2019.

“Amounts proposed for rescission must be made available for prudent obligation before the amounts expire, even where the 45-day period for congressional consideration in the ICA approaches or spans the date on which the funds would expire,” GAO wrote.

Pelosi implied that if the White House continues to push for a rescission of foreign aid funding, she would consider it a violation of the “no poison pills” element of a recently inked two-year deal to increase budgetary caps and the debt ceiling. And she noted that such a plan already has bicameral and bipartisan opposition, including by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“I request that you work within the administration to stop this proposed rescission which GAO states is illegal, which violates the good faith of our budget negotiations, which important Republicans say is ill-advised, and which overrides Congress’ most fundamental constitutional power,” Pelosi wrote.