Nine Republican senators have moved to enact spending cuts President Donald Trump proposed last month.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) identified funds in the budget that Trump argues are unneeded. The process is a little-used device called rescission, in which the executive branch can claw back funds authorized by Congress. It has not been used since Bill Clinton was president.
The impact is small. The total amount of money involved is a blip in the massive federal budget, and the funds come mainly from defunct accounts or leftover dollars that would not be spent anyway. But Senate sponsors argued that the rescission package is an important step toward fiscal responsibility nonetheless.
“Rescinding these dollars now ensures that Congress doesn’t use them as a budget gimmick later,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said in a statement. “This rescissions bill is a common-sense initiative to ensure that the federal government is a better and more effective steward of hard-working Americans’ money.”
Another co-sponsor, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), suggested that the cuts are more than mere symbolism.
“Yes, a $15 billion spending reduction is a drop in the bucket compared to a $15 trillion debt,” he said in a statement. “But we have to start cutting spending somewhere. Because if we don’t, if we continue to allow federal government spending to grow faster than the economy as a whole, at some point economic reality will force us to do so in a much more painful manner later.”
Conservative activists, who are still seething over the deal congressional Republicans cut with Democrats earlier this year to massively increase spending, praised the effort.
“While we firmly believe that we must balance our budget in five years or less and end our massive debt, this package is a good first step that cuts billions of dollars in wasteful government spending,” Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund Chairwoman Jenny Beth Martin said in a statement.
“Our network of more than 3 million supporters hopes that President Trump will continue to press Congress to take the promises they make to the American people as seriously as he does and deliver the balanced budget we so desperately need to reverse years of reckless overspending in Washington, D.C.,” she said.
Under the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, the president has the power to identify accounts and programs to be eliminated. Congress has 45 days to approve, modify or reject the request.
In the Senate, all rescission actions must first go to a committee, which has 25 days to act before the initiative can move to the floor of the Senate.
Budget analysts question how much money the cuts actually would save. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) earlier this month pegged the true savings at just $1 billion through 2028. The reason for the lower savings is that many of the amounts in the package have remained in the budget but gone unspent for years.
Democrats have blasted the proposal, focusing on $5.1 billion in appropriations for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
But supporters contend — and the CBO confirms — that no beneficiaries would be affected by the rescission. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) argued that it may even benefit the CHIP program.
“This proposal will help end the deception where Congress overfunds popular programs like CHIP only to shift the excess money to unrelated programs when the American people aren’t looking,” he said in a statement. “It is a modest but important step in the direction of honest budgeting and protecting taxpayers.”
In addition to Ernst, Lee and Toomey, co-sponsors are Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.).