The White House is urging Congress to trim several billion dollars from the federal budget in the wake of pricey hurricane disaster relief — a move that could reignite a contentious debate over whether to offset the costs of the aid.
In a Friday letter to House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney identified $5.6 billion in cuts that “are prudent as the discussion around emergency funding of all types continue.”
Mulvaney emphasized that the reductions “are not intended to offset” any recently-passed emergency funding for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico — a sensitive topic for Capitol Hill. Rather, the cuts to conservation programs at the Agriculture Department, loan programs for advanced-technology vehicles at the Energy Department and training and employment services at the Labor Department could be used in future talks, he wrote in the letter obtained by POLITICO.
The letter lays down a marker for future relief discussions and suggests the Trump administration could push for offsets in the future.
The House this week passed the latest batch of emergency funding for Puerto Rico and Congress is expected to move an even larger relief package as part of any deal to avert a government shutdown in December. So far, disaster-related relief has tallied about $51 billion.
Republicans on the Hill have fought internally about whether to offset disaster relief with cuts to other programs.
Many moderate Republicans and virtually all Democrats reject any attempt to pay for emergency situations on principle. But some House conservatives — including Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) — have pushed GOP leaders to avoid adding to the deficit.
The debate is only likely to grow when the next relief package passes — particularly since it will be larger than the first two.
Mulvaney is likely trying to get ahead of that debate by offering some offsets that could be part of the conversation going forward.