FACT CHECK: Have Presidents Tried To Cancel Federal Spending 1,200 Times?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short said that past presidents have submitted 1,200 proposals to roll back already-approved federal spending.

Verdict: True

Presidents have asked Congress to cancel federal spending 1,178 times since fiscal year 1974.

Fact Check:

Shortly after President Donald Trump signed the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill in March, his administration started to craft a proposal that could slash $30 billion to $60 billion of the approved spending in the bill.

A measure enacted in 1974 sets forth a process that lets the president submit a proposal to Congress to cancel required federal spending. This proposal, called a rescission, must be approved by Congress within 45 days of submission, but Congress is under no obligation to vote on the measure.

Short said on “Meet the Press” Sunday that the White House is still working on a rescission proposal. He noted that many other presidents have used the tool.

“Did you know that between President [Gerald] Ford and President [Bill] Clinton there were over 1,200 rescissions submitted to Congress? The last two presidents have chosen not to utilize that,” Short said.

His figure is in the ballpark. Government Accountability Office data found that presidents asked for 1,178 recessions from FY 1974 to FY 2000. Congress approved 461 of those proposals. President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama did not request any rescissions through this formal process, though Bush used a different process to cancel spending and re-designate some of it for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

“One other thing to keep in mind is that counting is probably not meaningful,” Joshua Tauberer, creator of GovTrack, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “The total dollar amount or the significance of the programs affected is more meaningful.”

Presidents requested $76 billion in rescissions from FY 1974 to FY 2000, and Congress approved $25 billion. President Ronald Reagan asked for the most rescissions – 602 proposals totaling $43 billion.

One rescission proposal by Reagan totaling $15 million targeted refugee assistance programs. A $5 million proposal from Clinton affected programs in the Department of the Interior.

Before 1974, presidents dating back to President Thomas Jefferson withheld or deferred some spending without explicit congressional approval. Congress set new rules in 1974 after President Richard Nixon impounded funds in an attempt to halt entire housing, transportation and water programs rather than target excess spending or select projects.

Many presidents have sought greater authority over spending bills. Congress gave Clinton sweeping budgetary authority in 1996 with the Line-Item Veto Act, which allowed the president to veto particular items in spending bills rather than the entire bill.

When Clinton really started to use his new power in FY 1998, he canceled a higher portion of spending through the line-item veto than through the rescission process. Congress approved $17 million in cuts through Clinton’s requested rescissions, but he canceled $325 million through the line-item veto.

The Supreme Court said in 1998 that the line-item veto was unconstitutional because it allowed the president to “amend” the law without going through the legislative process.

Though neither Bush nor Obama submitted formal rescissions to Congress while they were in office, they both sought greater power over spending levels.

Bush called for a “legislative line-item veto” that attempted to get around the Court’s objections to the 1996 line-item veto. It would have required Congress to either approve or deny striking certain spending measures from a bill with a simple majority before the president signed it. The House passed the measure, but it was not reported in the Senate.

Obama asked for “enhanced rescission authority” that would have required Congress to take action on a rescission proposal, approve or deny the package without amending it and halt the spending in question until it acts. Congress did not vote on the measure.

Those who support Trump proposing a rescission say that it’s a balanced way to reconsider hastily-approved spending.

“The rescission process is an underutilized budget process tool that has the virtue of engaging the legislative and executive branches” in the budget, Gordon Gray, director of fiscal policy at the American Action Forum, wrote in a post. “To a large degree, these branches of government do not routinely grapple, either in opposition or jointly, with fiscal policy matters beyond annual spending bills.”

Trump faces opposition to a potential rescission from within his party, however. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not support the idea.

“He can’t make an agreement one month and say, ‘OK, we really didn’t mean it,’ and come back the next month and say, ‘Oh, we really didn’t mean our agreement,'” McConnell told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto last week.

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter