The Latest: National Security Experts Issue Warning On Trump
Lawmakers and activists are preparing for the possibility that President Donald Trump's administration, in its zeal to slash the federal budget, will take the rare step of deliberately not spending all the money Congress gives it — a move sure to trigger legal and political battles.
The concern is mainly focused on the State Department, where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has drawn criticism for failing to spend $80 million allocated by Congress to fight Russian and terrorist propaganda and for trying to freeze congressionally authorized fellowships for women and minorities. Activists and congressional officials fear such practices could take hold at other U.S. departments and agencies under Trump.
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"We've seen just too many instances these past few months ... where there is clear congressional intent and funds provided, yet an unwillingness or inability to act," Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement to POLITICO.
Advocacy groups are consulting lawyers and gathering information on current spending and the laws that govern the budget; one NGO network is even surveying humanitarian organizations to gather more facts. Capitol Hill staffers are scouring the fine print of appropriations bills, hunting for loopholes that would allow the executive branch to slow down or stop spending.
The goal is to fend off cuts that they fear could damage foreign aid programs, hobble U.S. diplomacy and ultimately weaken America’s national security.
The issue could be a topic of debate at the upcoming confirmation hearing of Eric Ueland, a Trump nominee for a top State Department position. A former Republican Senate budget staffer, Ueland is hailed by conservatives and reviled by liberals for his budget wizardry.
Presidential administrations, even Republican ones that promote a small-government ideology, usually try to spend whatever money they get from Congress’s annual budget process. Federal managers sometimes find creative reasons to spend money to preserve their budgets for future years. Unspent funds revert to the U.S. Treasury.