/Trump faces bipartisan blowback over foreign aid pause

Trump faces bipartisan blowback over foreign aid pause

Donald Trump

House and Senate foreign policy leaders and appropriators sent letters to the Trump administration over a foreign aid pause. | Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is facing mounting bipartisan backlash over a recent decision by his budget office to hit pause on several pots of foreign aid.

House and Senate foreign policy leaders and appropriators sent letters to the Office of Management and Budget on Friday, calling for a reversal of a directive that‘s holding up as much as $4 billion across 10 areas of foreign assistance, including funds for international peacekeeping operations, narcotics control and global health efforts.

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The top Republicans and Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee signed onto one letter, while Democratic spending leaders Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sent a separate missive.

“We write to express our deep concern regarding reports that for the second year in a row, the administration has paused end of the fiscal year obligations and may be preparing a rescission package that would cancel over $4 billion in funding vital for American foreign policy,” wrote Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

“Slashing crucial diplomacy and development programming would be detrimental to our national security while also undermining Congress’s intended use for these funds,” the foreign policy leaders wrote. “We urge you to make them available for obligation without further day.”

Lowey, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate spending panel, called on OMB to reverse the funding pause and provide Congress with a “legal justification” for withholding the money.

The appropriators also want an explanation on why OMB’s order is consistent with the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which spells out the steps that the president must take in order to pull back funds appropriated by Congress.

The congressional ire comes after Trump’s budget office sent a letter to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development over the weekend, asking for “an accounting” of billions of dollars in foreign aid that hasn’t been obligated for a specific purpose and is set to expire at the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

Last year, the Trump administration sought to use an obscure budget tool — called the power of presidential rescission — to effectively force billions of dollars in foreign aid to expire without input from Congress.

That effort proved wildly unpopular, sparking criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. The administration eventually dropped the proposal.

While Trump’s budget office has yet to announce another rescission attempt, critics fear OMB’s recent directive signals that’s where the administration is headed.

OMB spokesperson Rachel Semmel told POLITICO on Thursday that “it is incumbent on all federal agencies to properly use funds provided by Congress.”

She added, “In an effort to ensure accountability, OMB has requested the current status of several foreign assistance accounts to identify the amount of funding that is unobligated.”