Rescission: What’s really at stake?

There’s been a lot of talk in the news recently about the Administration’s proposed rescission request. The House has now taken up the proposal and will be considering H.R. 3, the legislative vehicle for the request. These are bad proposals – the rescissions request is bad policy and the eagerness of the House to comply with the Administration taking charge of the Congressional budget process sets a bad precedent. The request eliminates funding that will result in unmet needs in public health, education, job training, housing and other critical programs. 

You will hear a lot of discussion about how rescissions are a part of budget process – and they are.  The need to reallocate or clean up budget lines happens every year and for nearly every administration.  Since the passage of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which lays out the Federal Budget process, presidents have made rescission requests.  Reviewing how budgets are allocated for departments is a complex process, and the length of their authorization from Congress depends on a variety of factors and what the original authorization was for – be it procurement, personnel or a number of other programmatic needs. 

Many folks right now are using that argument to support the White House’s rescission package just submitted to Congress.  They’ll use history to show that many former presidents have also offered rescission packages, claiming that this is nothing different.  House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy wrote of “giving the bloated federal budget a much-needed spring cleaning.’” The Administration has made it clear though that, this rescission package isn’t the last one it is planning and that the next one will be bigger, target funding that isn’t expired, and hew even more dramatically along ideological lines. You can bet, for example, that the President’s border wall will not see a decrease in federal spending, but human needs programs are likely to be further zeroed out. This is worrisome for a number of reasons, not the least which is the President’s apparent willingness to walk back promises made in the budget negotiating process. Government only works if each side is willing to compromise and agree with one another. The fragile trust built between lawmakers is what makes the gears of government work. 

As one reviews the White House request a common theme emerges – the programs targeted are the same ones the Administration and the Majority in Congress have been targeting from the get-go: international aid, access to health insurance for children, a fund for health care system innovation, conservation programs and employment and training programs. 

Where are the targeted rescissions to unspent Pentagon funds?  As the largest line item in the Federal budget, there must be a significant amount of funds whose authorization has also expired.  At least as much as, say, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which is the target of the biggest rescission of $7 billion. Yet there are none included.

It is this misleading use of budgeting procedures to propel a political agenda that is the most galling. That, along with the dizzying cross speak about the need to keep federal spending at bay by offering a rescissions package, while touting the recently passed tax cuts which are the single greatest threat to federal budgeting issues. It leads one to ask, “why does the equation to reduce government spending always need to result in an increase in human suffering?”

If we are to be serious about wanting to reduce our nation’s deficit at a time when the economy is strong enough to do so – let’s think about other ways to do that.  Instead of feeding our bloated war budget, let’s feed children.  Instead of funding a drastic militarization of the southern border and building a pointless wall, let’s invest in an immigration system that is compassionate and careful.  Instead of tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, let’s find meaningful ways to invest that money into families and anti-poverty programs – ones that raise people up at the hardest times in their lives.  This paradigm shift will show that we are, after all, a nation of plenty.  The abundance of our gifts doesn’t have to be hoarded or apportioned – it can be graciously given. 

Categories: Column Getting to the Root of It

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