President Donald Trump’s administration is asking Congress to cancel $15 billion in unspent government funds, including $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a senior administration official said Monday.
The proposal is a Republican effort to claim fiscal responsibility after a deficit-increasing tax cut and a massive fiscal 2018 spending bill.
It would cancel unspent money from previous years’ children’s health insurance and would have no effect on current programs, the official said. Other unspent funds that would be canceled include $4.3 billion for a vehicle technology program and funds for Obamacare, the 2015 Ebola outbreak and railroad benefits.
The administration aims to follow up with a spending-cut plan that would take money from the current year’s spending bill, the official added.
The $15 billion request is scaled back from the administration’s initial goal of cutting a larger amount of domestic funds from the 2018 bipartisan $1.3 trillion spending bill signed by Trump in March, which has proven unpopular with Republican voters. The goal is to keep Congress from tapping unspent money for new purposes as has happened in the past, the official said.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said in an interview that he’s open to a spending-cut plan though he hasn’t seen the details.
‘Ought to Do It’
“If it is frivolous stuff that we can get rid of and save the taxpayer money, then we ought to do it,” Shelby said. He said he doesn’t favor reopening the 2018 spending bill.
“We’ll take a look at it,” said House Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, noting that the plan would address prior-year funds. He had previously said he strongly opposed cutting current-year spending because it would break trust with Democrats and make it harder to reach future spending deals.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement the proposal was evidence that Trump and congressional Republicans “are looking to tear apart the bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program (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.”
From CHIP, the administration’s proposal would cancel $5.1 billion authorized in 2015 to bolster reimbursements to states for children’s health care costs, and another $1.9 billion from a contingency fund for states with funding shortfalls because of higher-than-expected enrollment.
Initial Request Resisted
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Republican members of the House and Senate spending committees had resisted the initial White House request to cut the current budget. McConnell publicly argued that undoing this year’s bipartisan spending bill would undermine future congressional deal-making.
The scaled-back version may have a shot at being enacted. Conservatives and some senior spending panel members appear to be willing to go along with the smaller request after White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said it would be the first in a series.