Trump scraps plan to cut foreign aid following objections

Fellow Republicans were among those against Trump's (above) move to cut foreign assistance and tie it more closely to support for US policies.
Fellow Republicans were among those against Trump's (above) move to cut foreign assistance and tie it more closely to support for US policies.PHOTO: AP

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump has rejected a proposal from budget hawks in the administration to curb foreign aid spending after objections from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and lawmakers from both parties, officials briefed on the decision said.

The White House's Office of Management and Budget, which since 2017 has been led by Mr Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House Chief of Staff, had spent much of this month working on the proposal.

It would have imposed an estimated US$4 billion (S$5.6 billion) in cuts to foreign aid funding this year from money that Congress had approved but the State Department and US Agency for International Development had not designated yet for specific programmes.

In recent days, members of Congress, Mr Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have lobbied against the package, questioning the legality and effect of the move less than two months before the end of the fiscal year.

Mr Pompeo, the President's most trusted Cabinet official, won a similar argument against the budget office in August last year.

The latest retreat is another instance in which the administration and Capitol Hill, confronted with a ballooning deficit and national debt after the most recent round of tax cuts, have struggled to reach agreement over how to rein in government spending.

Mr Trump, who had been involved in multiple conversations this week about the cuts, spoke on Thursday in the Oval Office with advocates on both sides of the issue.

 
 
 

The President, who often talks about cutting spending but has put little political muscle behind efforts to do so, decided that the fight over US$4 billion was not worth it, because of the pressure campaign from Mr Pompeo and a barrage of calls from his allies on Capitol Hill.

Leaders in Congress had strongly opposed the cuts.

"I request that you work within the administration to stop this proposed rescission," Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to Mr Mnuchin. The proposal, she added, "overrides Congress' most fundamental constitutional power", to set government spending.

Senator Lindsey Graham and Representative Harold Rogers, the top Republicans on the appropriations sub-committees that oversee foreign aid allocations, were among those who warned that the package of proposed cuts could not only derail diplomatic efforts, but also jeopardise negotiations to fund the government into the new fiscal year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2019, with the headline 'Trumpscraps plan to cut foreign aid following objections'. Print Edition | Subscribe