Rescissions: The give and take of congressional budgeting

2018-04-26 | District Dispatch

Can Congress and the president take back spending weeks after they approved said spending? The short answer is, yes, through a procedure called a “rescission,” but it won’t be easy. Federal budgeting for more than $3 billion in annual spending is a complex process with rules, delays and pitfalls that can make a seasoned Washington “insider” perplexed. In March, Congress finished the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget and the president signed on March 23. The good news is that the budget was ONLY five months behind schedule (the FY18 budget year started October 1, 2017).

Even before signing the FY18 appropriations, the president realized the spending bill was not going to sit well with his fiscally conservative supporters and the president threatened to veto the package. While the veto threat was only a threat, the administration has recently indicated it would submit a rescission package to Congress requesting a vote to repeal funding for specific programs approved last month. Budget conservatives would like to use rescissions as a back-door maneuver to eliminate targeted programs or agencies.

The rescission authority was made possible by the Congressional Budget Control and Impoundment Act of 1974. The procedure allows for a time-limited process by which Congress can approve or disapprove the President’s rescission request with a simple majority in the House and Senate. Congress acts on the entire package and cannot approve programs separately. The procedure is simple but has implications for library funding whether Congress approves the package or not: funding for any program included in the administration’s rescission request is frozen for up to 45 days while Congress considers the request. If library programs such as the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) or Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) are included, grants could be delayed.

The administration has indicated they will announce the targets of its rescission cuts in early May; as of today we do not know if library programs will be included. However, the administration has proposed elimination of LSTA and IAL programs in its FY18 and FY19 budget requests to Congress. It would not be surprising to see LSTA and IAL on the target list.

Forcing a rescission package through Congress would be politically poisonous as it would be a rejection of the two-year budget agreement between Democrats and Republicans negotiated in February. A rescission vote essentially tells one party that the other party cannot be trusted to support its side of a bargain. Senate Republican leaders are on record opposing a rescission package, dimming its chances. A House passage is more likely.

If the administration submits a rescission request to Congress, expect to see a heated debate in Congress. If programs benefiting the library community are included, expect to hear from us again!

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