President Trump is disgusted by his signature on the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill he signed last month. He said so when he signed it. He noted, correctly, that the new law appropriates tens of billions of dollars of spending that the agencies don’t need and even in some cases, don’t want. (Who says bureaucrats can’t push themselves away from the trough?)
There’s a clear and present danger of voter backlash building against the congressional spending spree. Conservatives especially are angry about the Republicans’ all-you-can-eat buffet of debt and spending. A nation with a $20 trillion debt that is rising at a pace of nearly $1 trillion a year — much of it from China — can hardly afford to spend like Daddy Warbucks on a weekend spree in Las Vegas.
Ironically, Republicans thought that the old-fashioned, tried and true congressional custom of “bringing home the bacon” would continue to be popular with their constituents, just like always. But voters are more responsible than many of the men and women they send to Washington. Insensate spending has incited a revolt among grass-roots activists. They know who the guilty senators and representatives are, and they’re taking names. This spending spree could cost the Grand Old Party both House and Senate. What a pooped grand old party that would be.
There’s rumbling about the grumbling at the White House, and speculation that the president will call for a “rescission” of billions of dollars in spending, using the authority embedded in the Budget Act which allows him to withhold appropriated money if the spending isn’t really necessary, which a lot of it is not. This is authority Ronald Reagan used to withhold billions of dollars of spending to reduce soaring deficits.
Marc Short, the legislative director at the White House, suggests that the president is getting the word. “The administration is certainly looking at a rescission package,” he says, “and the president takes seriously his promise to be fiscally responsible.”
But there’s a fly in the ointment. Congress must uphold the rescission, and with the slender margins by which Republicans control Congress, there may not be enough votes to get that done. This Congress just can’t seem to get out of bed. However, there’s another way. Mr. Trump could announce to Congress that he won’t spend all the money, congressional appropriation or not. He could tell the people that as a CEO who has managed many successful businesses, he knows it’s absurd for the CEO of the government to be forced to throw money at waste. The website Openthebooks.com has chronicled tens of billions of dollars of waste. Americans concerned about the national debt — which is most of us — would applaud.
If the president is lucky, Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader of the House, and Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, would take him to court to force him to spend the money, with Democrats remaining faithful to their mantra, coined nearly a century ago, “spend and spend, elect and elect.”
Mr. Trump should say, “Bring it on.” Let Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer explain why a nation that hasn’t balanced the budget in two decades should spend money on bridges, tunnels and trains to nowhere. The president could remind them, and their constituents, that every president from George Washington to Lyndon B. Johnson canceled the funding when it was demonstrated as not necessary.
Mr. Trump could lose in court. But he would win a smashing victory in the court of public opinion, from which there is no appeal. This would clarify for the public just who favors runaway spending and who does not.
He would tell the American people that “if Congress won’t do it — I will.” With his approval now above 50 percent, as reckoned by Rasmussen, the most reliable pollster over several election cycles, and with Congress deep under water, its approval measured in the teens, the president could make the rare slam dunk.
He could call out Congress for failing to read through the 2,200 pages of the omnibus spending bill that they approved. He could recite lyric and verse of the absurd spending. If he does nothing to prevent this spending, the not-so-Grand Old Party faces unpleasant consequence in November. If he wants to get on with draining the swamp, he has a golden opportunity.
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