President Donald Trump on Tuesday dusted off a tool that has not been used in nearly two decades to cut spending in a way that avoids a Democratic filibuster.
The budget mechanism, known as “rescission,” allows the president to identify unneeded spending. Congress can accept it with simple majorities in both houses. Crucially, that would allow the spending cuts to be passed without any Democratic votes.
The White House proposes cuts totaling $15.4 billion from the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending measure that became law last month.
“The Trump administration and Congress must be responsible with each taxpayer dollar that comes to Washington,” deputy budget director Russell Vought wrote Monday in The Wall Street Journal. “Every member of Congress should support these rescissions.”
The cuts would be a tiny share of the federal budget, and even smaller considering that most of the reductions would be eliminating unobligated funds, such as money remaining in accounts for defunct programs.
White House officials said the rescissions would reduce actual spending by only about $3 billion.
About $7 billion would come from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) but would not affect benefits to any of the low-income families that receive them. More than 30 programs would be cut.
Still, taking the money off the books would prevent Congress from redirecting money to other programs. The proposal drew qualified praise from conservative activists and budget hawks.
“Our federal government is set to spend more than $300 billion in interest payments alone this year, and those payments are set to rise significantly in coming years as federal spending continues to outpace economic growth,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said in a statement.
Club for Growth President David McIntosh also praised the request.
“This rescission package is an initial step in President Trump keeping his promises to the American people to control spending,” he said in a statement.
Jenny Beth Martin, chairwoman of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, called it a “good first step” in the effort to control spending.
“This is money that cannot be spent so it shouldn’t be spent,” she said in a statement. “It should be returned to taxpayers as a down payment on future rescissions and spending cuts that the Republican congressional leadership has promised multiple times.”
Conservatives have been in open revolt against the Republican-controlled Congress since lawmakers reached a bipartisan deal in March on a $1.3 trillion spending bill, which eliminated spending caps that had slowed spending in previous years. The deal set up the federal government for massive increases in defense and discretionary domestic spending in future years.
“In a $4 trillion budget, there are bound to be funds we simply don’t need; the president deserves credit for trying to identify some of these dollars.”
In that context — and an overall federal budget that totals some $4 trillion — the cuts proposed by Trump will not do much to staunch the endless flow of red ink. But it is a start, according to Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
“In a $4 trillion budget, there are bound to be funds we simply don’t need; the president deserves credit for trying to identify some of these dollars,” she said in a statement. “Congress should seriously consider the president’s proposed rescission package, or at least a subset of it.”
The rescission process has not been used since Bill Clinton was president. But before fiscal year 2001, presidents routinely made rescission requests. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, presidents proposed $76 billion in rescissions from 1974 through 2000 — with lawmakers accepting about $25 billion.
MacGuineas called on Congress to give the president greater authority to cut unneeded spending.
“Meanwhile, members of both parties should work together to identify wasteful spending and tax breaks to cut while pursuing the revenue and entitlement reforms that will be needed to truly slow the rapidly rising and unsustainable growth of red ink,” she stated.
Some conservatives, however, derided the move as empty symbolism. Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance, argued that the cuts — even if approved — hardly qualify as a big accomplishment.
“The cuts are a symbolic gesture in recognition of the fact that conservatives in the Republican base were upset by the spending bill,” he said in a statement. “They were upset at the exploding deficits. But this is not a meaningful change. While a symbolic change is better than no change, it can be even more damaging if it lulls us into inaction.”
Trump likely will get no help from Democrats.
“Everybody doesn’t spend down to the very [last] penny, but you channel it into other areas that are supportive of the purpose of that money in the first place,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during an interview with Politico Playbook. “That’s not an unusual thing.”