White House Is Said to Scale Back Attempt to Cancel Spending

(Bloomberg) -- The White House is scaling back its plan to seek cuts from already-passed spending bills in the face of resistance from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and spending panel Republicans, two GOP congressional aides briefed on the plan said Thursday.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney plans to ask Congress on Monday to cancel $11 billion in unspent money from prior years, a much lower figure than the $63 billion request originally floated to Congress last month. The new request won’t touch the $1.3 trillion fiscal 2018 spending bill Trump reluctantly signed in March, according to the aides.

Instead, funds will come from the 2009 Obama stimulus package, Energy Department loan and advanced vehicle manufacturing programs, and the Affordable Care Act, one of the aides said.

A Trump administration official said discussions are continuing and the final number hasn’t been fixed, adding that the proposal is intended to be the first in a series.

The scaled-back request may have a shot at being enacted.

"If that is what the proposal is, then I think there will be a lot of support for that," House Appropriations Committee member Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said in an interview. "Our message has been, don’t put us in a position where we go back on our word."

Cole, who has been working with Mulvaney on the spending cut attempt, said he had been told to expect two or three rescission requests over the coming months.

Once the first request is made, Congress will have 45 session days to consider it. During that time, the spending in those accounts is frozen. A rescission request can’t be blocked by the minority party in the Senate, meaning it could pass with just 50 Republican votes, without any Democratic support.

McConnell said last month that he opposed reopening the fiscal 2018 spending deal that Republicans reached with Democrats. That message was also sent to the White House from Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama and his House counterpart, Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey.

The omnibus spending package has proved unpopular with Republican voters because it increased spending by more than $150 billion. Since then, the House unsuccessfully tried to pass a balanced budget amendment and also signaled Thursday that it’s developing a resolution in the Budget Committee to get the deficit under control.

Cole said the House Budget committee, of which he also a member, is looking to make cuts to entitlement programs in an effort to reach a balance within 10 years. He said that to his knowledge, the budget wouldn’t cut the total for 2019 appropriations in a two-year budget cap deal signed in February. Leaving that alone would allow the spending panel to bring bills to the House floor more quickly. The committee plans to vote on the first two of those bills Tuesday.

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