Politics

Tweaked Trump Cuts Request Restores EPA, Ebola, Sandy Funds

But whip count could be close, with burden solely on GOP to pass rescissions package

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and his office sent a revised rescissions package to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, although timing on a possible vote is unclear. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Trump administration revoked a slice of its $15.2 billion “rescissions” request Tuesday, targeting items that received a cool response from GOP lawmakers whose votes will be needed but leaving intact most of the original proposal.

The Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to Capitol Hill proposing to reduce the size of the cuts by a combined $515 million, with nearly half of that coming from restoration of $252 million in unspent funds that could potentially be used to combat a renewed Ebola virus outbreak overseas. Democrats have cited the recent Ebola resurgence in the Democratic Republic of Congo as reason to blast Republicans for considering the cuts.

Also gone is a proposed rescission of funds leftover from 2013 supplemental appropriations for the Superstorm Sandy recovery effort, which initially provoked an angry response from Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y. Sandy battered the East Coast, particularly New York and New Jersey, when it made landfall in late 2012.

The revisions would also leave untouched $10 million in EPA water quality research grant funds, which Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has expressed concern about.

The White House is also removing $134 million in requested cuts for two Transportation Department highway funding accounts, after the Government Accountability Office ruled last month the accounts can’t legally be “impounded” or blocked by the administration during the 45-day period that follows a rescissions request being sent to Congress. Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and her House counterpart, Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., have expressed concern about the highway cuts.

In addition, the White House request would slightly reduce proposed cuts to Department of Housing and Urban Development funds for public housing unit repairs. The revisions would pare back by about $2.1 million the administration’s initial ask for $34 million in cuts from unspent HUD public housing capital funds.

The revisions would also shave a proposed $151.3 million in cuts to unspent Treasury Department balances made available by the 2008 housing law designed to address the subprime mortgage crisis. The cuts to Treasury’s Capital Magnet Fund, which provides grants to housing nonprofits and financial institutions that lend to business and individuals in low-income communities, would be reduced by $9.6 million.

The changes are designed to bring more Republican lawmakers on board with the rescissions bill, which has been lying dormant since House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., introduced it on May 9. During an appearance Tuesday on Fox Business, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said the House could take up the revised package as early as this week, though there’s been no official change in the House floor schedule yet.

“Today’s supplementary special message to the President’s first rescissions package includes several technical and policy updates based on continued Administration analysis and discussions with Members of Congress,” a senior administration official said in a statement. “We urge the House and Senate to pass this package to help get our fiscal house back in order, and return the unused and unnecessary funds back to the American taxpayer.”

Shaky Whip Count

House Republicans whipped the rescissions package last month, but decided afterward not to put the bill on the floor for a vote. GOP leaders have until about June 22 to vote on the proposal under the protections within the 1974 budget law that allows for fast-track consideration. If they don’t hold votes before then, backers lose the ability to push the measure through the Senate with a simple majority vote.

Democrats are unanimously opposed to the request, which means Republican leaders need 215 of their members to support the package for it to pass the House, given there are now seven vacancies in the chamber. That support isn’t yet there, due to a variety of concerns from Republican lawmakers. At the top of that list is the measure’s $7 billion rescission to the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which the White House did not touch in its amended rescissions message.

Republican lawmakers are concerned voting to rescind money for children’s health care may be negatively portrayed during campaign season, especially in swing districts. The administration and top House GOP lawmakers have repeatedly pointed to a Congressional Budget Office report that says rescinding CHIP funding would have zero impact on actual program spending and that no children would lose health insurance as a result. That hasn’t swayed some lawmakers in tight races.

Even if the legislation can pass the House, its passage in the Senate remains uncertain. The GOP holds 51 seats in that chamber. With Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., absent, Republicans will likely need the support of all but one of their remaining senators, assuming Vice President Mike Pence would be available as the tiebreaking vote.

Paul M. Krawzak and Ryan McCrimmon contributed to this report.

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