President Trump on Thursday abandoned a push for cuts in foreign aid, faced with opposition from lawmakers in both parties despite swelling deficits.
“It’s clear that there are many on the Hill who aren’t willing to join in curbing wasteful spending,” a senior administration official told The Washington Times. “The president 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.”
The White House was seeking up to $4.3 billion in “rescissions” from the State Department budget and the U.S. Agency for International Development. It’s the second consecutive year that the White House has sought unsuccessfully to trim foreign aid already appropriated by Congress, before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.
Among the programs the White House wanted to cut were funding for a “Green New Deal for Africa” and solar panels for Central Asia.
Although the proposed cuts were largely symbolic in a federal budget of more than $4 trillion, the White House retreated amid criticism on the right of the costly two-year spending deal that Mr. Trump reached with Democratic leaders.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday that the federal budget deficit will exceed $1 trillion by 2020. The deficit is $960 billion this fiscal year.
Top Democrats opposing the foreign aid cuts were joined by Republican appropriators Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky in urging Mr. Trump to stop the move.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said it was a good thing Mr. Trump backed off.
“The power of the purse is one of Congress’s most fundamental responsibilities,” Mr. Schumer tweeted. “I hope he has learned the lesson not to play games with the budget.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the proposed cuts were shortsighted and “clearly illegal,” according to a Government Accountability Office legal opinion.
“It is important for us all to recognize first and foremost our national security interests and Congress‘ constitutional power of the purse as was acknowledged in a bipartisan way in the rescission discussion, as we move forward in the upcoming budget negotiations,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Liz Schrayer, president and CEO of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, credited Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with blocking the proposed cuts.
“A huge shout-out to Secretary Pompeo who — for the second summer in a row — brought his swagger and fought for his department alongside strong bipartisan leadership in Congress and a powerful chorus of voices from the military, faith, business, and humanitarian communities who stepped up to protect the State Department and USAID,” she said in a statement.
She said the foreign aid is badly needed for a variety of priorities.
“With all the threats and competition that America faces overseas — from Ebola to a renewed [Islamic State] to China — it’s clear once again from the Freedom Caucus to the Progressive Caucus that politicizing these kinds of cuts to critical national security programs is simply not a winning agenda,” she said.
Rescissions is a process in which the president asks Congress to cancel funding that has been appropriated but not spent. Other foreign aid programs that the White House was targeting included crop diversity in Bangladesh, family planning in West Africa and desert survival courses in Egypt.
The rescission proposal was popular with conservatives such as Charlie Kirk, president of Turning Point USA.
“When U.S. dollars are used to fund terrorism in Palestine, Prop up Venezuelan dictators, Fuel Central American corruption, Bankroll UN wastefulness, Taxpayers should not be forced to foot the bill!” Mr. Kirk tweeted.
U.S. foreign aid totals about $50 billion annually. While many countries receive foreign assistance, the money has been concentrated in countries such as Iraq ($5.3 billion in 2016), Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt and Jordan.
The president has highlighted his decision to cut about $300 million in military aid to Pakistan over its failure to drive out extremists and to eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.
The spending skirmish pitted acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who were pushing for the cuts, against Mr. Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, who argued that the cuts would harm national security and anger lawmakers ahead of next month’s deadline for sorting out spending priorities within the overall budget.
The discussions were continuing as late as Thursday morning.
Mr. Pompeo said of foreign aid, “We’ve got to make sure we are using it in ways that are effective, that American interests are represented in the way we spend that money.”
“Every employee, every single dollar we take away from the taxpayers, I want to make sure we’re deploying properly,” he told reporters during a stop in Ottawa, Ontario.
The heads of more than 90 nonprofit groups urged congressional leaders this week to stop the proposed cuts, saying that slashing foreign aid “reduces the effectiveness of life-saving programs and undermines America’s global leadership.”
“Bipartisan support for foreign assistance has been an enduring feature of U.S. foreign policy for decades,” the groups wrote. “Furthermore, we urge Congress to ensure that rescission threats and proposals are no longer used as a tool to hinder and defund U.S. foreign assistance and undermine congressional intent. This will reassert Congress‘ power of the purse and halt actions that impact the lives of millions of poor and vulnerable people around the world.”
The groups included Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam America, the American Red Cross, Refugees International and UNICEF USA.
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