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Partisan Fight Over $15 Billion Rescissions Package Developing

Democrats not ready to play ball, Pelosi suggests

President Donald Trump begrudgingly signed the omnibus spending bill in March. Now his administration is making a $15 billion rescissions request. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
President Donald Trump begrudgingly signed the omnibus spending bill in March. Now his administration is making a $15 billion rescissions request. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

The Trump administration on Monday outlined a roughly $15 billion “rescissions” request it plans to send to Congress on Tuesday, targeting unspent health care and green energy funds for the largest share of the cuts.

The bulk of that request proposes eliminating $7 billion in budget authority from the Children’s Health Insurance Program — $5 billion from fiscal 2017, for which there is no authority to spend the money, and $2 billion from a contingency fund for states that the White House doesn’t expect any states to draw from, a senior administration official said.

Congress regularly rescinds CHIP funds, including almost $7 billion in the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending law, but typically uses the money to pay for other health-related priorities.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested in a statement that members of her caucus were not ready to play ball.

“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,” Pelosi said.

House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Democrats shouldn’t object to the CHIP and other proposed rescissions.

“It looks like most of it is stuff … that I don’t know why a Democrat would want to leave money in the CHIP program that we cannot spend, because the authorization’s run out. Again, if it’s things like that, that’s just sort of cleaning up the garden a little bit,” Cole said.

Another $4.3 billion would come from the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program, plus another $523 million from the same agency’s Title 17 “innovative technology” loan guarantee program, both of which have not generated new loans since 2011.

Other proposed rescissions in the package include:

  • $800 million from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation program.
  • $252 million in funding designated for the 2015 Ebola outbreak.
  • $133 million from an unemployment insurance extended benefits program for railroad workers.
  • $148 million from Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service funding for outbreaks that have already been resolved.
  • $15 million from rural cooperative development grants, designed to help businesses market their products in rural areas.
  • $107 million from funding that was for watershed rehabilitation programs following Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Deficit Impact

The official said the $15 billion package includes 38 proposals that will score as reducing the deficit, most of which lawmakers would continue to propose as “pay-fors” for increased spending elsewhere if not rescinded.

The administration was never looking at as much as $60 billion in total fiscal 2018 rescissions, as some initial media reports had suggested, the official added, suggesting the sum total of its requests will be lower than that.

The initial request doesn’t include any money from the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill President Donald Trump begrudgingly signed into law in March. But, the senior administration official hosting a call with reporters said the White House does plan to send such a request later this year.

“We plan to follow up with another rescissions package down the line that does address the omnibus bill, but that is not in this package,” the official said.

No targeted timeline

The official said there is no targeted dollar amount or timeline for a second rescissions request, but the official said it would include spending the White House believes is wasteful, ineffective and duplicative.

“I think what you do is you start with incremental steps and hopefully what we’re able to do is show that we can start here,” said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C. “This is I believe the first of many rescission packages that you’ll see. To suggest that this is the closing chapter of the rescission narrative is not accurate.”

However, Meadows said if this one fails it would be the end of the narrative for this fiscal year.

“If this one doesn’t get through I think it does kill any future rescission packages until we have midterm elections,” Meadows said, noting the Senate dynamic may improve dramatically after the elections.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said he spoke by phone with Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on Monday, and that he believes the $15 billion rescission package is “a good first step.”

“We’ll get that across the finish line and see what happens,” said Walker, R-N.C.

The senior administration official was optimistic about the package’s chances in the House. The official was more cautious about its prospects in the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., among other Republicans, has expressed skepticism.

The official said the Trump administration hopes the special message focusing on unobligated funds will help to “start a conversation with the Senate” about using rescissions authority to “cut billions of dollars.”

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report. 

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