OPINION POTOMAC WATCH
In for a Penny, in for Impound
How Trump and the congressional GOP can undo the worst of the omnibus.
Plenty of Republicans remain bitter that their party passed that bloated $1.3 trillion omnibus—almost as bitter as President Trump, who felt pressured to sign it. But this fight doesn’t have to be over.
 
Across Washington, principled conservatives are noodling with an idea that—if done right—could be a political winner. It’s a chance for Republicans to honor their promises of spending restraint and redeem themselves with a base turned off by the omnibus blowout. It’s an opening for the GOP to highlight the degree to which Democrats used the bill to hold the military hostage to their own domestic boondoggles. And it’s a chance for Mr. Trump to present himself again as an outsider, willing to use unconventional means to change Washington’s spending culture.
 
It’s called the 1974 Impoundment Act, which allows the president to order the rescission of specific funds, so long as Congress approves those cuts within 45 days. The act hasn’t seen a lot of use in recent decades. Barack Obama never saw a spending bill he didn’t like, and George W. Bush never sent any formal rescission proposals to Congress—likely because he took the position that presidents ought to have a fuller line-item veto power. Many conservatives agree, though Ronald Reagan used rescission where he could and holds the title for most proposals. Even so, the total amount all presidents since 1974 have put forward for rescission ($76 billion) and the amount Congress ultimately approved ($25 billion) remains pathetic.
 
Republicans could change that. Their control of the White House and both chambers gives them an unusual opportunity to cut big. Under the Impoundment Act, a simple majority is enough to approve presidential rescissions—no filibuster. It’s a chance to take a hacksaw to the $128 billion by which the omnibus exceeded the 2011 domestic-spending caps—everything from carbon-capture technology to pecan producers to the Gateway Tunnel Project to the Environmental Protection Agency.
 
The political danger here rests in Mr. Trump moving unilaterally, with a rescission package that shames his fellow Republicans in Congress and puts them at greater risk in the midterms. The trick is instead for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to request Mr. Trump go the impoundment route, or for the White House and congressional leaders to make a joint announcement.
 
Which gets to the other trick—getting congressional Republicans to come on board and take credit for spending cuts. The GOP is correct that most of the spending hikes were at Democratic demand, but many Republicans used that as an excuse to stuff in their own pork. Messrs. Ryan’s and McConnell’s job is to explain that, with midterms at stake, the party needs to prove it can do a better job with the federal fisc.
 
They can sweeten the deal by reminding members that a successful rescission allows them not only to brag that they are working on spending-restraint promises, but to highlight the Democratic role in pumping up the original numbers, and to emphasize specific Democratic outlays that they stopped. Wholesale cuts in domestic agencies—like the EPA or the Education Department—would also put them closer in line with Mr. Trump’s proposed budget, a huge winner with conservative voters.
 
Most important, this is a vivid way for the GOP to explain to voters the importance of allowing it to continue to hold both chambers of Congress. Democrats will continue raising their outrageous spending demands, and holding out the threat of shutdown whenever the GOP doesn’t comply. Let them. If Republicans show they can successfully use rescission to fix the damage, that threat is neutralized.
 
This is the kind of victory the GOP needs to show it can govern, and to motivate voters to turn out in November.
 
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, gets to revive an overlooked tool as part of his campaign to upend Washington culture. He was clearly undecided whether to sign this ugly bill, and this allows him to follow up with a strategy to kill its most offensive pieces. And you can bet Mr. Trump, who is never happier than when bragging, will make much of that win on the midterm campaign trail.
 
No, the GOP can’t use this to insert policy riders they failed to get the first time round. And yes, there had better be some thought put into this before anyone pulls the pin. If Messrs. Ryan and McConnell aren’t willing to strong-arm their majorities to yes, they’d best not bother. Failing after floating the possibility of rescission would be worse than sitting still.
 
But in a Congress that has little left of substance it is willing to tackle in a midterm year, this is a fight worth having. Adding a substantial spending victory to tax reform, deregulation and a growing economy could make the difference in November.
 
By Kimberley A. Strassel
March 29, 2018 7:00 p.m. ET
Write to kim@wsj.com.
 
Appeared in the March 30, 2018, print edition.

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