By Dan Calabrese
If they actually do it, it will be an act of boldness not seen by congressional Republicans in . . . OK, I can’t think of an example. It’s the sort of thing Newt Gingrich would have done during his days as Speaker if he could have gotten the troops on board, but there were always too many Nervous Nellies to make this sort of thing feasible.
What are we talking about here?
Well, it turns out that after Congress passes, and the president signs, a spending bill, the president can ask Congress to rescind specific spending items. And crucially, Congress can approve the rescission request with a simple majority vote of each chamber. No filibusters allowed. No cloture votes of 60 senators needed. The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel explains that this is authorized under the Impoundment Act of 1974. It’s rarely been used, and in its entire history Congress has only rescinded a meager $25 billion using it. But that may about to change:
It’s called the 1974 Impoundment Act, which allows the president to order the rescission of specific funds, so long as Congress approves those cuts within 45 days. The act hasn’t seen a lot of use in recent decades. Barack Obama never saw a spending bill he didn’t like, and George W. Bush never sent any formal rescission proposals to Congress—likely because he took the position that presidents ought to have a fuller line-item veto power. Many conservatives agree, though Ronald Reagan used rescission where he could and holds the title for most proposals. Even so, the total amount all presidents since 1974 have put forward for rescission ($76 billion) and the amount Congress ultimately approved ($25 billion) remains pathetic.
Republicans could change that. Their control of the White House and both chambers gives them an unusual opportunity to cut big. Under the Impoundment Act, a simple majority is enough to approve presidential rescissions—no filibuster. It’s a chance to take a hacksaw to the $128 billion by which the omnibus exceeded the 2011 domestic-spending caps—everything from carbon-capture technology to pecan producers to the Gateway Tunnel Project to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The political danger here rests in Mr. Trump moving unilaterally, with a rescission package that shames his fellow Republicans in Congress and puts them at greater risk in the midterms. The trick is instead for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to request Mr. Trump go the impoundment route, or for the White House and congressional leaders to make a joint announcement.
Now just because they can do this doesn’t mean a majority of them actually want to. Much of the spending in the omnibus was put in to satisfy Democrat demands and prevent a filibuster that would have tanked the whole thing and led to a shutdown. It’s certainly plausible that without Chuck Schumer’s demands, at least some of the spending in the bill would not have been included.
But do the likes of John McCain and Susan Collins want to strip that spending back out? McCain especially seems like the type who would object on the grounds that such an action was “not bipartisan” or whatever. As if Schumer’s hostage-taking tactics in the budget negotiations were anything but partisan, but we all know McCain only demands bipartisanship of his own side.
And even if you could get all 51 Republicans on board, how would they handle the messaging? The media would beat them up daily for whatever calamity they’d supposedly be causing by cutting this or that spending item. Would they be able to overcome that to tout their own actions in the name of fiscal responsibility, or would they get nervous and buckle?
The fact that they’re even thinking about doing this is encouraging. Maybe if enough people know they’re thinking about it (and know it’s even possible), they’ll demand they follow through and make it much harder for them to back down.
Dan writes Christian spiritual warfare novels and does all kinds of other weird things too. Follow all his activity by liking him on Facebook!