Claiming “generally no programmatic effect,” the White House on Monday night unveiled the long-expected package of proposed rescissions of “unobligated balances” in agency program accounts, surprising critics by limiting it to $15 billion and steering clear of funds in the delicate bipartisan omnibus spending bill enacted in March.
Hardest hit would be the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the innovation programs at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, according to senior administration officials speaking to reporters on a conference call.
“This is the largest single rescission package ever proposed by a president at one time,” an official said, and the first in 20 years.
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Under the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, the president can propose a set of rescissions of unspent monies, and Congress then has 45 days to approve, modify or disapprove of them by a simple majority vote.
President Trump had promised such a package after expressing disappointment in the new spending in the bipartisan omnibus bill he reluctantly signed in March. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney had been working with House Republicans on ways to offset the spending hikes some in Congress count on by canceling authority for certain agencies to spend money left over from previous years.
Calling the package “historic,” the senior administration official said Trump considered the proposal a “very important tool to eliminate or reduce wasteful spending” by identifying “unallocated balances in accounts that haven’t been spent, sometimes for good reason, because a law lapsed or because there is no programmatic basis for the monies to be spent.”
He cited presidents going back to Ford offering rescissions, and quoted House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., backing such efforts in the past to get unspent funds going back several years off the books. “There’s no time like the present to start,” he added, calling the proposal the first of a series.
Specifically, the package proposes halting $7 billion in planned spending for CHIP. First $5 billion would be taken back, then $2 billion in planned spending in two accounts. Authority for one of the accounts lapsed last year and the other is a contingency fund for which no states are expected to be eligible, the official said, so there’s “not anyone making a proposal to hurt the program in any way.”
A proposed $4.3 billion would be blocked from the Energy Department’s stalled Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program, along with $523 million from Energy’s Title 17 “innovative technology” loan guarantee program, also inactive in recent years.
The innovation program at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would do without $800 million, the official said, noting that under the Affordable Care Act, CMS still is set to gain billions in the coming years.
Other proposed rescissions:
- $252 million still designated to combat the 2015 Ebola outbreak;
- $133 million from a railroad workers’ unemployment insurance extended benefits program;
- $148 million from Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service funding;
- $15 million from rural cooperative development grants to businesses; and,
- $107 million in funds for watershed rehabilitation in Eastern states that suffered damage from the 2012 Superstorm Sandy.
The administration expects the House to move quickly to approve the package so that “we can start a conversation with the Senate,” the spokesman said, denying assertions that the plan is too controversial to clear the nearly evenly balanced Senate. Those who were concerned about reopening the omnibus, he added, “have nothing to be concerned about” given that the rescissions address past spending. He denied earlier reports that the administration had “come down” from an original plan to seek $60 billion in retroactive cuts. “It’s important we start the debate and get the muscle memory [for rescissions] back in this town,” he said.
Early reactions from Democrats were not welcoming. “After exploding the deficit with the GOP Tax Scam’s massive handouts to corporations and the top 1 percent, Republicans are trying to eliminate funding dedicated to children’s health,” said Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, who portrayed the proposal as a cynical step. “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.”