Congressmen Used To Love Rescissions, Until Trump Offered Them Up

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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President Donald Trump is asking lawmakers to claw back $15 billion in taxpayer money they shelled out to federal agencies years ago, but his request is being met with hesitancy and flack from nearly every corner of Capitol Hill.

The White House is targeting what are called “unobligated balances” — money Congress gave to an agency that, for one reason or another, did not spend. In some cases, agencies can use these funds as reserves, while, in other instances, agencies might be legally barred from using the money.

The majority of the $15 billion comes from cuts to old federal programs. For example, the administration is targeting a federal loan program intended to give a boon to fuel, efficient, green energy automobiles and expired disaster relief funds. In total, the White House is asking for less than a 0.4 percent roll back from what the federal government will spend this year.

House and Senate Democrats are already posturing to vote against the administration’s proposal, because nearly 50 percent of the requested rescissions come from two accounts within the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) — $7 billion the White House claims are funds that cannot be or won’t be spent under law and an additional $2 billion in contingency funds. The White House told reporters Monday evening that a good portion of the $7 billion cut to CHIP funding comes from 2017 ($5 billion), which has now expired.

In addition to cutting CHIP funding, the proposal asks for an $800 million cut to an Obamacare fund for Center for Medicare and Medicaid innovation. The party is aggressively protective of anything even tangentially related to Obamacare, making it all the more likely Trump’s proposal will not be a favorite amongst congressional Democrats.

CHIP is also an important issue for Democrats.

Congressional Democrats repeatedly called on Republicans to fund CHIP last November when the program’s funding expired. Republicans later offered Democrats a six-year extension of CHIP in exchange for their vote on a bill to keep the government funded, but Democrats turned it down in order to secure legal protections for 800,000 illegal immigrants, known as DREAMers, and members of their families. Ultimately, Democrats shut down the government for a weekend and did not secure funding for the CHIP program.

Lawmakers agreed to a 10-year extension CHIP funding in early February. That deal included $7 billion towards community health centers, $6 billion to deal with opioids and mental care and other provisions. (RELATED: Didn’t Democrats Already Vote To Rescind CHIP Funding?)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer came out swinging against Trump’s rescission package Monday, setting the tone for an upcoming fight.

“Let’s be honest about what this is: President Trump and Republicans in Congress are looking to tear apart the bipartisan (CHIP), hurting middle-class families and low-income children, to appease the most conservative special interests and feel better about blowing up the deficit to give the wealthiest few and biggest corporations huge tax breaks,” Schumer said Monday.

Schumer’s counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, signaled her colleagues were not ready to cut a deal.

“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 in a statement to members Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains focused on confirming conservative judges through Dec. 31 of 2018 and has repeatedly argued that a large rescission package equates to going back on a bipartisan deal.

Schumer, Pelosi and McConnell have all voted for rescission packages during their decades-long tenures in Congress, dating back to 1992.

The trifecta voted for House Resolution 4990 in 1992. Pelosi and McConnell voted for another in 1994. Schumer and McConnell voted for another package in 1997.

Trump’s rescission proposal is roughly 300 percent smaller than one many Senate Democrats voted for in February 2011.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan put forth an amendment in 2011 that called for the rescinding of $44 billion in unobligated funds. The amendment won the support of 81 senators, including Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Dianne Feinstein of California, Chris Coons of Delaware, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bob Melendez of New Jersey, Bill Nelson of Florida and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is ambivalent about the president’s proposal because of CHIP funding, also voted for Stabenow’s amendment in 2011.

Others in House Democratic leadership might be willing to vote for a rescission package.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said on the House floor in mid April that he would not oppose a rescission package aimed at funds that are lying around.

“I wouldn’t irrationally oppose a rescission which said we have had money lying in an account that has not been spent in 1, 2, 3 years. We shouldn’t just have it sitting in that account. The gentlemen (McCarthy) is absolutely correct,” Hoyer said.

After the White House sends the proposal over to Congress Tuesday, House and Senate lawmakers will have 45 days to consider the rescission package. If they disprove of the president’s proposal, the White House would then be forced to release the withheld funds to the federal agencies.

The administration plans, as The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported, this week’s rescission package to be the first in a series. Future recision packages will be aimed at the 2018 $1.3 trillion omnibus.

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