As Republicans run into a buzz saw of conservative criticism over a deficit-expanding new budget, GOP leaders and the White House are looking for ways to undo the damage by allowing President Donald Trump to rescind some of the spending he signed into law just 10 days ago.
Rolling back the funds would be a highly unusual move and could put some lawmakers in the potentially uncomfortable position of having to vote for specific spending opposed by a president from their party. But it would also offer Republicans a way to save face amid the backlash over the bill that conservatives, and Trump himself, complain gives too much money for Democratic priorities.
Trump has been talking with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, about the plan over the past couple of days, according to an aide to the House leader who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks. It is not clear how widely the idea has been embraced by other top Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose offices declined to discuss it.
“There are conversations right now,” said Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy. “The administration and Congress and McCarthy are talking about it.”
The idea emerged as lawmakers get hammered back home for the $1.3 trillion spending package that, while beefing up funds for the military, also increases spending on transportation, child care and other domestic programs in a compromise with Democrats that Trump derided as a “waste” and “giveaways.”
Trump’s decision to sign the bill into law, after openly toying with a veto, has not quelled the unrest and may have helped fuel it.
“People are mad as hell about it and mad as hell that they put the president in that situation — that he sign the bill or shut the government down,” said Amy Kremer, a founder of the tea party and co-chairman of Women for Trump.
Kremer said Republicans in Congress have lost sight of the voters who propelled them to the majority on an agenda of fiscal restraint. “They are no better than the Democrats,” she said.
Lawmakers home on spring recess are feeling the brunt of the criticism. Representative Mark Amodei, a Republican from Nevada, said he encountered a finger-wagging voter back home almost as soon as he stepped off the airplane.
Fox News host Sean Hannity asked, “What happened to the Republican Party?” after Trump signed the bill. “Republicans should be ashamed of themselves,” he added.
In some ways, the rescission proposal is as close as Trump can get to the line-item veto, which he called on Congress to enact even though the Supreme Court decided in 1998 that it would violate the authority the Constitution gives Congress on legislation.
The idea centers on a rarely used provision of the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impound Control Act. It allows the White House to propose rescinding funds and sets a 45-day clock for the House and Senate to vote.
Congress could simply ignore the president’s request and keep the funds in place.
Sparks didn’t specify how much spending could be rescinded or in what categories. But Trump would likely seek to focus on domestic spending he has attacked in recent tweets.
Trump has been particularly upset the package did not include $25 billion he sought for the border wall with Mexico, even after the bill burst through previously set budget caps for military and domestic spending.
Ryan and Trump have not yet talked this week, an aide to the speaker said, but likely will by week’s end.
Voting, though, could be difficult, even for fiscally conservative Republicans, since Trump’s targets may be popular projects or programs back home, said Gordon Gray, the director of Fiscal Policy at the center-right American Action Forum, who notes the rescission tool is not as popular as it was when introduced in the Nixon era more than 40 years ago.
Passage would not be certain, especially in the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority.