Several leading senators, including the GOP appropriations chief, are casting doubt on the White House’s plan to trigger fresh cuts to the State Department just ahead of next month’s government’s funding deadline.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Tuesday he opposed the timing of the White House’s strategy, which comes as GOP leaders are leaning on Democrats to help avoid a government funding cliff Sept. 30, at the height of campaign season.
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“This is probably not, in my judgment, a good time to deal with it, because we’re trying, in a bipartisan way, to do something that hasn’t been done in 25 years — to make the Senate work, not to divide it,” Shelby said, weighing in on the strategy for the first time.
The Trump administration has proposed using an obscure budget tool — the power of a presidential rescission — to effectively force between $3 billion and $5 billion in foreign aid to expire without input from lawmakers. The cuts would largely come from U.S. funding for the United Nations.
The idea has enraged Senate Democrats, who say it sets a dangerous precedent for future funding bills.
“I think that should worry every member,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, said Monday. “Today it’s about foreign aid. Tomorrow it could be about defense, or health care or anything else they care about.”
Democratic fury over the White House’s spending cuts package could blow up the Senate’s careful plan to avoid a late-September funding debacle this year.
This week, the Senate is on the cusp of approving its eight and ninth spending bills of the year — a pace that lawmakers say is the most productive in decades. It’s a direct result of an agreement by leaders of both parties not to force hyperpartisan votes this year to drag out the process.
Shelby fears that pact could be jeopardized if the Trump administration moves ahead with its efforts to cut foreign aid.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he sees the White House’s move as an attempt to renege on this spring’s budget caps agreement, which Trump himself signed.
“We did a budget deal, and he chose not to veto it, so we gotta be spending that money,” Kaine said. “ I don’t think we can do line-item vetoes, and I don’t think he can take away our appropriations power.”
In a closed-door GOP luncheon, several senators stood up to tell Vice President Mike Pence that they oppose the plan, according to Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), who was in the room. Those who raised concerns outnumbered those who voiced support of the idea, Kennedy said.
Pence did not say whether the Trump administration planned to move ahead with the plan, which has also drawn criticism from Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
Corker and Menendez have planned to send OMB Director Mick Mulvaney a joint letter this week urging him to drop the plan to cancel the foreign aid.
“Vice President Pence listened carefully with an astute poker face,” Kennedy said after the closed-door GOP luncheon. “He’s very good at his job.”