Senators voted Wednesday to block President Trump’s $15.4 billion spending cuts package, with lawmakers saying it trimmed the budget too much.
Brushing aside administration promises that the cuts were chiefly to money that was never going to be spent, the Senate voted 50-48 to keep the bill bottled up. Two Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine and Richard Burr of North Carolina — joined Democrats to defeat the package.
The vote was a blow to Republicans who had promised more fiscal responsibility after passing a $1.5 trillion tax cut last year followed by a $1.3 trillion spending bill in March.
Mr. Trump, stung by criticism after signing the spending bill, vowed to return with cuts.
But with Congress already working on the 2019 spending bills, Democrats said any moves to lower government funding would sour the chances for bipartisan cooperation.
“Make no mistake: It will derail the process,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat and vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, drawing a line in the sand for his party.
“This rescissions bill undermines the bipartisan budget deal that we struck just four months ago. If we go forward with this package, another will follow, and another, and another, and another, even further undermining the agreement,” he said.
The cuts were quite modest compared to the size of the federal budget and the annual deficit.
They accounted for $15.4 billion in what’s called “budget authority,” but most would never be spent.
In terms of actual expected spending, the White House said, the bill cuts $3 billion from the budget. The Congressional Budget Office put the figure even lower at $1 billion.
The biggest cuts were a $4.1 billion trim to a vehicle technology loan program and to the Children’s Health Insurance Fund, which was slated to lose $7 billion — though budget analysts said that money couldn’t have been spent so it made no sense to leave it lying in the fund.
While small in dollars, the spending cuts package was meant to loom large symbolically, showing Republicans could trim a budget they have allowed to explode over the last few years of their control of Congress.
Backers also said it was a chance to slow the growth of the debt. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “modest belt-tightening,” and disputed Mr. Leahy’s claim that it would ruin the bipartisan progress on spending.
“If we, the people’s elected representatives, want to speak seriously about stewarding taxpayer money, surely we can vote to recapture these unspent funds that are not even currently in use,” he said.
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