Under pressure from Republicans in the Congress to hold down on federal spending, President Donald Trump is asking Congress to officially block a series of federal agencies from spending $15 billion in money which has been approved by the Congress in the past, but never spent by the feds.
"This is just money that is sitting out there," said a senior administration official in a call with reporters. "This is something that we have designed to go after funding, and pots of money that have been on the books for many, many years."
The Trump rescissions package would come under an existing federal law known as the 1974 Budget and Impoundment Act, which allows a President to ask Congress to specifically block spending on certain items, while using special rules to avoid the possibility of a filibuster in the Senate.
"This is a tool that has been used by every President from President Ford to President Clinton," another official added, saying this would be the first in a series of efforts by the Trump White House to find other savings.
Of the $15 billion being targeted in unspent money - officially known as 'unobligated balances' - officials stressed that these are all funds which were approved years ago, but not used by federal agencies.
Something to note about the graphic provided above from the White House - it does not mention that almost half of the $15.4 billion in proposed savings would come from the Children's Health Insurance Program - CHIP - a popular bipartisan plan; officials say this money was in accounts which were not going to be spent, stressing again and again that it would have no impact on the overall CHIP plan.
On a conference call with reporters, the same officials repeatedly made clear that they see this as a first effort to cut back on spending, though it comes just months after majorities in both parties easily approved a two year budget plan, which would increase spending by close to $300 billion.
"When we put together the next package, it is going to be based on what this administration feels are wasteful and ineffective programs," one official said, promising a bigger effort to get rid of actual spending programs, rather than just clearing the books of money which was never spent.
But the inclusion of the $7 billion from CHIP set off a torrent of complaints from Democrats.
"If they want to fix our nation’s growing deficits, they could easily find the money by eliminating outrageous tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, rather than taking money away from working families," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
"These Republican rescissions show the hypocrisy of a GOP Congress that insists on tight budgets for children and families while handing enormous, unpaid-for giveaways to corporations and the wealthiest," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Under the law being used by the White House for this package, as soon as the money is targeted under the plan, those funds are frozen, so that agencies could not suddenly decide to spend the money before the Congress acts.
With the special rules in the Congress to deal with this request, lawmakers could tinker with the details, but not make the package bigger than the original proposal made by the President.
"There will be a deficit savings for taxpayers as a result of this package," said one official, though it's far short of the amount needed to balance the budget, as estimates from the Congressional Budget Office predict a budget deficit of over $800 billion this year.