By Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leaders from both parties on a powerful U.S. Senate committee pledged on Thursday to push back if President Donald Trump moves ahead with plans to bypass Congress and roll back billions of dollars from the foreign aid budget, including funds for Syria and the West Bank and Gaza.
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has asked the State Department and USAID to submit information for a “rescission” package targeting foreign assistance with the intent of returning funding to the Treasury, an administration official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The recission process cuts money that has been appropriated by Congress but has not been spent. The nearly unprecedented move by Mick Mulvaney, the former Republican congressman who heads the OMB, would cut foreign assistance already approved by Congress.
Several administration officials said OMB was targeting roughly $3.5 billion in funding.
Senators Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Bob Menendez, the panel’s ranking Democrat, both said they would seek to stop the move.
“I don’t know how they can do that legally, but we certainly look forward to seeing how to counter that, if that’s the case,” Corker said during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
Menendez said the latest plan “would be a devastating blow” to the State Department and the U.S. government’s main aid agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Menendez later told Reuters he would consider blocking nominations by the Trump administration if the plan went ahead.
“If they do it in the way that they’re going to… in essence it effectuates a cut without Congress being able to act, then I have to look at the nominations in a whole different light,” Menendez said.
The State Department and USAID were not immediately available to comment. A spokesman at OMB did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Trump administration tried to slash foreign aid in this year’s budget, but lawmakers objected and Trump ended up signing a budget that did not include the cuts.
Earlier this year, the administration tried to slash $15 billion in domestic spending, including $7 billion for a children’s health insurance program, using the rescission process.
That plan failed to pass Congress.
This time, Congress would be unable to stop the plan because the administration would present its proposal within 45 days of the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
(Editing by David Gregorio)