May 8, 2018 | MacIver News Service
By Chris Rochester
MADISON, Wis. – President Trump today did something all too rare in Washington – he found an excuse NOT to spend money.
In a message to Congress, Trump’s Office of Management and Budget requested that the federal legislative branch rescind more than $15 billion in previously appropriated funding that hasn’t been spent. This package of so-called “recissions” is the largest in history.
“[T]he Administration is committed to ensuring the Federal Government spends precious taxpayer dollars in the most efficient, effective manner possible. Given the long-term fiscal constraints facing our nation, we must use all available means to put our fiscal house back in order,” wrote OMB Director Mick Mulvaney in the letter to Congress.
Absent a fiscally responsible administration, the massive chunk of taxpayer change would likely have been spent, even though it wasn’t needed.
The president has the authority to request such funding recissions under the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act (ICA) of 1974. The recission letter informs Congress that money it has allocated wasn’t needed and requests that the spending authority for the $15 billion be removed, precluding executive branch agencies from spending it.
Only Congress can eliminate the funding, however. Under the ICA, Congress has 45 days to act on the president’s request. Any member of Congress can introduce a bill with the recission proposals – and it cannot be filibustered in the Senate.
While presidents of both parties have used the law to propose a total of $76 billion in spending reductions over the past 44 years, Trump’s $15.4 billion is the largest ever – and the first of several to come, according to a White House fact sheet.
Many of the requests to withdraw spending authority are for programs that have gone untouched for years:
- $4.3 billion in spending authority under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, idle since 2011 and only issued five loans since it was launched in 2007;
- $523 million for the Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program, a relic of President Obama’s stimulus package;
- $800 million for a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Center program that has no plans to spend the money in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years;
- $252 million in excess funds for the Ebola outbreak that the World Health Organization declared to be over in 2016;
- $133 million for the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Extended Benefits program, which ended in 2012;
- $148 million for the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, money allocated for responding to disease outbreaks that have been resolved.
Another big chunk of the $15 billion recission proposal is to withdraw $5.1 billion in Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding that was never spent and has since expired. “Authority to obligate these funds to States expired on September 30, 2017, and the remaining funding is no longer needed. Enacting the rescission would have no programmatic impact,” the OMB notes in its letter.
As so often happens in Washington, Trump’s request could be turned into a political bludgeon, but at least one Senate Democrat is on record supporting the notion of taking back unspent cash from stale accounts.
“I wouldn’t irrationally oppose a rescission which said we’ve had money laying in an account that has not been spent for 1, 2, 3 years, we shouldn’t just have it sitting in that account,” said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.
Of the $76 billion presidents have proposed to rescind over the years, Congress has only accepted $25 billion in reductions, according to Citizens Against Government Waste.
No president has used his authority under the ICA since 2000. During that time, the national debt has grown from $5.7 trillion to more than $21 trillion today.