WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Tuesday began trying to convince U.S. lawmakers to support $15 billion in spending cuts, which Democrats called a hypocritical bid to reclaim an image of fiscal conservatism following Republicans’ deficit-ballooning tax cuts of 2017.
President Donald Trump’s package, known as a rescissions request to kill existing budget commitments, rekindled partisan fiscal conflict in Congress on the heels of relative calm with the March 23 enactment of a government-wide funding bill.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was dispatched to a weekly Republican meeting to urge approval of the spending cuts. House of Representatives conservatives applauded Trump’s measure.
“We will get the rescissions package passed,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters after a closed-door meeting with his fellow rank-and-file Republicans.
Separately, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that “if the House is able to pass the rescission package, we will look at it.”
The national debt, an accumulation of past annual deficits, now exceeds $21 trillion and is projected to hit $29 trillion by the end of the decade, expanded by deep Republican tax cuts last December and a massive spending bill by both parties earlier this year.
Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said that with this new budget spat, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans had displayed “another example of their hypocritical attitude toward deficits.”
“After ballooning deficits to over a trillion dollars a year for the next decade ... Republicans cannot be taken seriously when they claim we need to cut $15 billion from key programs in the name of fiscal responsibility,” he said.
With the federal deficit at $804 billion this year, up from $665 billion last year, and on track to hit $1 trillion in 2020, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a fiscal watchdog group in Washington, said the rescission proposal “isn’t going to fix the debt but it’s a start.”
Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan group, said, “Congress should seriously consider the president’s proposed rescission package, or at least a subset of it.”
Asked about Trump’s proposed rescissions of $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Mulvaney told reporters that some of “that money could not be spent even if the rescission package fails.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer countered that unused funds being targeted for rescissions could be put back into the program with Congress’ approval.
A 45-day clock starts ticking for Congress to act once the rescissions are formally submitted.
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool