Earlier this month the House passed a bill that purported to take back some of the massive spending Congress authorized in the $1.3 trillion omnibus appropriations bill it enacted in March, utilizing an obscure presidentially initiated procedure called “rescissions.” The whole exercise was deeply phony, and aimed at a symbolic “fiscal responsibility” gesture to offset the fact that this Republican-controlled Congress has by its tax and spending decisions swollen the federal deficit to what will exceed a trillion dollars by 2020. As the Congressional Budget Office noted, the bill mostly cancels completely unused and not-going-to-be-used budget authority, and would only cut about $1 billion in actual outlays, which in the context of the federal budget amounts to what Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler compared to coins found under the sofa cushions.
In a mild surprise, the Senate did not go along with the game. Democrats gave the whole thing a wide berth, and two Republicans voted against it (one more than the GOP could afford, given John McCain’s absence). One of the defections was predictable: Susan Collins of Maine, who is not only a frequent rebel against Trump and the leadership, but who is also a member of the Appropriations Committee, who generally have a dim view of “clawbacks” of the spending they have earlier approved, as a matter of principle. But the other was Richard Burr of North Carolina, whose rationale for voting “no” showed exactly how seriously the rescissions are really taken in Congress:
Burr’s office said the senator was concerned about $16 million in cuts targeting Land and Water Conservation Fund projects under the U.S. Forest Service. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is set to expire in September, and earlier Wednesday Burr led a news conference to call for its extension. The fund uses royalties paid by energy companies that drill on the Outer Continental Shelf to protect natural resources. Burr had not been guaranteed a vote on an amendment to protect the LWCF funding, his office said.
If $1 billion is sofa-cushion money in Washington, $16 million is a squashed penny on the sidewalk, and being denied a guaranteed vote on a future appropriations amendment is like a gnat bite. But it doesn’t take much to decide against a measure as completely bogus as this one. If the president tweets outrage about it, the cynical charade will be complete, though in his defense, he probably doesn’t know “budget authority” from bitcoin.