WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House will not move forward with plans to cut billions of dollars in foreign aid, U.S. officials said on Thursday, after an outcry from Congress about what was seen as an attempt to sidestep lawmakers’ authority over government spending.
President Donald Trump said he was considering scaling back the effort to cut aid on Tuesday, and would decide on the proposal within days.
Members of Congress, including several of Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, had contacted administration officials to object to the latest Trump administration effort to cut foreign assistance and tie it more closely to support for U.S. policies.
“I’m glad to see important foreign assistance programs - which Congress had already approved - going forward,” Republican Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
“I share the president’s concerns about waste, fraud, and abuse across some of these programs and I look forward to working with him on that issue in the future.”
A senior administration official said Trump “has been clear that there is waste and abuse in our foreign assistance and we need to be wise about where U.S money is going, which is why he asked his administration to look into options to doing just that.”
“It’s clear that there are many on the Hill who aren’t willing to join in curbing wasteful spending,” the official added.
Administration officials this month briefly froze State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development spending with an eye to using a budget process known as “rescission” to slash up to $4.3 billion in spending already approved by the Senate and House of Representatives.
The White House tried a similar strategy last year and dropped that plan too amid congressional resistance.
Politico was the first to report on Thursday that the rescission package would not move forward.
Sources familiar with the discussions had said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued in favor of the aid money, while Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, wanted the cuts.
At a news conference in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, Pompeo did not say there had been a decision, but acknowledged he had “been engaged in meetings” on the subject.
Total foreign aid accounts for less than 2 percent of the federal budget, and the assistance being considered for cuts accounts for an even smaller percentage.
Opponents of the plan argued that funding programs that fight poverty, support education and promote global health are worthwhile investments that save on security costs in the long run.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday citing the Government Accountability Office’s finding that such a use of rescissions was not legal.
Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress, not the White House, controls spending.
Many sources said they expected the issue would end up in court if Trump pressed ahead with it instead of working with Congress.
Lawmakers also said the plan - developed within weeks of Congress’ passing, and Trump signing into law, a two-year budget deal - could imperil lawmakers’ future willingness to negotiate spending deals with the White House.
Advocacy groups welcomed the news.
“Americans can be pleased that the Administration recognized the importance of these vital foreign assistance programs for keeping America safe and on the global playing field,” Liz Schrayer, president of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, which promotes diplomacy and development, said in a statement.
Reporting by Steve Hollland and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle; Editing Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney