WASHINGTON (AP) — In a rebuke to President Donald Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday blocked a White House plan to cut almost $15 billion in unused government money slated for children’s health insurance and other programs.
Two Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine and Richard Burr of North Carolina — joined with Democrats to defeat the measure. Fifty senators opposed the plan and 48 supported it.
The so-called rescissions package would take a mostly symbolic whack at government spending because it would eliminate leftover funding that likely would not have been spent anyway. The name comes from the fact the plan would have rescinded previously approved spending.
Trump and GOP conservatives had embraced the plan following passage in March of a $1.3 trillion catchall spending bill they say was too bloated.
The GOP-controlled House narrowly passed the spending cuts earlier this month after the White House urged lawmakers “to return this funding to the Federal Treasury rather than use it as a budgetary gimmick to offset spending elsewhere.”
The budget deficit is on track to exceed $800 billion this year despite a strong economy.
Democrats complained that the rescissions plan would take away $7 billion from the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program so it couldn’t be used later.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the idea that Republicans would claw back billions of dollars from children’s health insurance, affordable housing and rural development after forcing through massive tax cuts “goes beyond laughable. It’s unconscionable.”
But Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said spending rescissions were a common practice in past decades and were usually done on a bipartisan basis.
“Returning unused taxpayer money isn’t just good government. In a republic, it should be expected. It should be the norm,” Lee said.
Burr’s opposition was unexpected and came after he was not guaranteed a vote on his amendment to protect funding for land and water conservation. The rescissions package included $16 million in land and water conservation funds designated for the Forest Service and promised to specific projects.
Burr and other senators led a bipartisan news conference Wednesday to mark 100 days until the conservation program expires unless Congress votes to reauthorize it. The 54-year-old fund boosts outdoor recreation, conservation and preservation nationwide while supporting millions of jobs and contributing billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, Burr said.
Collins said in a statement Wednesday that the rescissions package was unnecessary.
“My belief is that it’s the job of Congress to comb through these accounts, and that’s what we do on the (Senate) Appropriations Committee,” she said.
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.