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Trump wants Congress to cut spending from the bill he already signed into law

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A law passed in 1974 and signed into law by President Nixon allows the president to put a 45-day hold on already-passed funding and ask that Congress rescind those items — a process known as “rescission.” If Congress doesn’t act on the request within 45 days, however, the money is released again. It only requires a majority vote to pass in each chamber and therefore is not subject to a 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

The last time Congress approved any rescissions was nearly 20 years ago under President Clinton in the late 1990s, according to the Congressional Research Service. President George W. Bush took advantage of the authority after Hurricane Katrina when he proposed canceling $2.3 billion in unused balances from 55 federal programs in order to offset the cost of hurricane recovery efforts.

Bush and Obama even tried to strengthen the power by requiring expedited consideration by Congress of requests to cut funding already signed into law. Neither proposal was successful, partially because lawmakers — especially appropriators — feel strongly that the legislative branch needs to maintain a firm grip on the power of the purse.

Hours after suggesting he might veto the just-passed spending bill, Trump signed the package into law on March 23. In remarks after he signed it, Trump complained that Democrats won items for “things that are really a wasted sum of money” in a bill that provided only a fraction of the funding he’d sought for his border wall, with just $1.6 billion designated for repairing and building previously approved fencing, rather than the $25 billion over three years requested by Trump.

Budget experts, however, doubt that the White House effort will be successful.

“I think the effort is an uphill struggle all the way,” said Jim Dyer, senior adviser at Washington law firm Baker Donelson and longtime former congressional appropriations aide, who added, “I think the White House is trying to make some kind of political statement to insulate themselves from criticism on the right that they gave away too much non-defense [spending] to get all their defense spending.”

Focusing on a recission plan, Dyer added, could have multiple consequences. It could wind up cutting programs championed by Republicans, which he said would be a “huge mistake” in a such a tightly contested election year and it would also be a setback for lawmakers who want to charge ahead with their legislative agenda. The spending package, after all, expires in six months, on Sept. 30. Right now, appropriators are focused on preparing spending bills for the next fiscal year, which begins in October.

Introducing a rescission would also create massive headaches for lawmakers who spent weeks trying to come to a bipartisan agreement. Bill Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said a rescission package would be breaking the deal Republicans made to get Trump the military funding he sought.

“I personally do not think it will be successful,” said Hoagland.

“This is a typical Trump ploy to act autocratically,” added Stan Collender, executive vice president at Qorvis MSLGROUP. “The omnibus appropriation was a GOP-Democratic compromise that the Trump base (Fox News viewers) hates and the president is playing to it.”

Outraged Democrats are unlikely to give in to the White House.

“The majority should not renege on a responsible agreement enacted with bipartisan votes and the President’s signature,” said Matt Dennis, spokeswoman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee. “Dishonest dealing like this poisons the well for future bipartisan compromises.”

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