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Wall Street Journal / News

Trump’s Bid for Spending Cuts Faces GOP Skepticism

Some Republican senators have expressed concerns over President Trump’s efforts to roll back some of the $1.3 trillion spending bill signed into law last month.

Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) said the move by President Donald Trump to roll back some of the spending bill runs counter to the bipartisan talks that led to the legislation.

WASHINGTON—A handful of Republican senators have expressed concerns over President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back some of the $1.3 trillion spending bill signed into law last month, indicating the plan is likely to fizzle on Capitol Hill.

Several GOP senators said this week they didn’t support canceling parts of the spending bill, which was the product of months of bipartisan negotiations from the top four congressional leaders.

“It is counter to the agreement that both houses and both parties and the administration reached,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), who supported the measure. “To try to undo it after it’s just been signed into law strikes me as ill-advised.”

Republicans have come under criticism for the growing federal budget deficit. The Congressional Budget Office said Monday it would exceed $1 trillion a year starting in 2020, thanks in part to tax cuts passed in December and higher spending agreed to in a two-year budget deal earlier this year.

Mr. Trump had publicly balked at the size of the spending bill, which he threatened to veto before reluctantly signing it in late March. Now top White House officials are working on a proposal of spending cuts, known as “rescissions,” to send to Capitol Hill. They could only become law if lawmakers agree.

Once drafted into a bill, the rescissions package would be considered in Congress under an expedited process and would only need a simple majority to pass both chambers. Most bills need 60 votes to pass the Senate, where Republicans hold only 51 of the chamber’s 100 seats.

The early GOP opposition to the proposal indicates it would face likely insurmountable hurdles in the Senate. With Republican Sen. John McCain recovering from brain cancer treatments in Arizona, GOP leaders can lose no other Republican votes, if all Democrats oppose the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the idea was “worth a discussion” with the White House, but suggested it might be tough to pass in the Senate.

“Whether that’s achievable is another matter,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Democrats said this week the rescissions would amount to Republicans reneging on the bipartisan budget agreement and subsequent spending bill.

“We’ve made an agreement. I hope they won’t go back on it,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), who noted it would be hard for Republicans to pass such a measure on their own.

The legislation passed the Senate 65-32 with the support of 25 Republicans.

The spending bill, which funds the government until October, gave both parties political victories. Republicans cheered its $80 billion boost for military spending this year, while Democrats lauded the $63 billion increase in domestic spending—the portion Mr. Trump is expected to target in his proposed cuts.

But some Republicans this week suggested it would be a mistake to roll back either part.

“It goes for more than half the national defense, for opioids, for national laboratories and that’s not the part of the budget that is the debt problem,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), referring to the slightly less of one-third of the federal budget that Congress sets each year. The other roughly two-thirds of the budget, which includes much of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, runs on autopilot.

GOP leaders are taking other, largely symbolic, steps to try to rein in the national debt. The House is expected to vote Thursday on a balanced-budget amendment. The constitutional amendment is unlikely to secure the approval of two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, as well as ratification by 38 of the 50 state legislatures.

“This is all a bunch of window dressing—you know that, it’s all for show,” Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said of the rescissions effort. Mr. Corker voted against the spending bill last month. “As is the balanced budget amendment, it’s all for show. It just gives cover to people to keep doing the destructive things that we’re doing.”

Some Republicans, however, said they welcomed the White House’s effort

“I hope it gets legs. I’m embarrassed about the bill that we passed,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.), who voted against the spending bill.

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