WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump’s administration will ask Congress to cancel $7 billion in unspent funds from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, an administration official said Monday, as part of a larger effort to trim spending following a deficit-increasing tax cut and a massive fiscal 2018 funding bill.
The request would affect unspent funds from children’s insurance from previous years, and would have no effect on insurance programs, the administration official said.
The larger request is being scaled back from the administration’s initial goal of cutting $63 billion in domestic funds from the 2018 bipartisan $1.3 trillion spending bill signed by Trump in March, which has proved unpopular with Republican voters.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Republican members of the House and Senate spending committees had resisted the initial White House request. McConnell publicly argued that undoing this year’s bipartisan spending bill would undermine future congressional deal-making.
The scaled-back version may have a shot at being enacted. Conservatives and some senior spending panel members appear to be willing to go along with the smaller request after White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said it would be the first in a series.
The Republican majorities in the House and Senate can cancel unspent funds with a simple majority vote in each chamber, with no need to get support from minority Democrats.
“It’s a modest first step,” said GOP Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Davidson said the smaller amount has a better chance of passing the Senate and blazing the trail for a larger request later this year.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who is seeking to become the next House speaker in 2019, negotiated the request with the White House. In a Monday opinion essay in the Washington Examiner, he said that the effort will put election-year pressure on Democrats to cooperate.
“Democrats will now be forced to debate and defend their budget priorities in front of the public,” McCarthy wrote.
It’s unclear how much the spending cut effort will be a factor in this year’s congressional campaign.
“Voters don’t seem to care about that stuff right now,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. He said Trump didn’t run on a deficit-cutting platform and Republicans will have a hard time making it an issue because the tax cut act passed in December would increase the deficit by nearly $2 trillion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Partly as a result of the tax-cut law, the annual federal deficit is projected to increase from $665 billion in 2017 to $1 trillion by 2020, according to the CBO.