President Donald Trump has sent lawmakers a sweeping package of spending cuts to consider before he leaves office, including billions in funding for a global health and vaccine distribution program involved in the Covid fight, according to the package obtained by POLITICO.
The $27.4 billion in proposed cuts is known as a rescission request — a largely symbolic package of spending claw-backs that the White House presents to Congress. There is no chance that Congress actually acts on the request. But the inclusion of $4 billion in funding for GAVI, a public-private partnership promoting vaccination in low-income countries, will likely fuel more criticism of the president’s approach to global health efforts in general and the Covid pandemic in particular.
GAVI has, among other things, worked to distribute Covid vaccine doses internationally in partnership with government and philanthropic entities. In the rescission request language, the administration argued that the funding for GAVI was coming at the cost of prioritizing vaccination efforts domestically, though Congress can and has budgeted for both.
“The $4 billion in funding designated as an emergency requirement would provide U.S. funds to support international vaccination efforts well in advance of clearly stated U.S. policy to vaccinate at-risk populations within the United States before supporting international vaccination,” the language reads.
The total rescission package targets a swath of federal departments, smaller agencies and foreign aid programs, hitting pots of funding that enjoy broad bipartisan support. Among other items, it would nix:
— $1.5 billion for emergency overseas food aid
— Billions for scientific research, including $2 billion for the research and development of renewable energy and energy efficient technology
— More than $2 billion for AIDS relief
— More than $1 billion to assist refugees and victims of conflict worldwide
— $291 million to programs that promote democracy worldwide
— $241 million in economic support for countries across the globe
— $500 million in foreign military assistance
— $12.3 million for research on firearm mortality and injury prevention
— $13 million for the National Institutes of Health
— $430 million for cultural exchange programs
— $181 million for climate research programs at NOAA
— Hundreds of millions in federal student aid
Trump promised to introduce the package last month after stoking shutdown fears and delaying his signature on the massive government funding and coronavirus package. But Democrats immediately promised to torpedo his rescission proposal.
“These out-the-door funding cuts are a clear attempt by President Trump to inflict as much harm as possible before he leaves the White House,” House Budget Chair John Yarmuth said in a statement on Thursday night. “These rescissions are filled with damaging and irrational cuts to programs critical in the fight against COVID-19, climate change, and strengthening America’s global leadership.”
Trump himself has previously lauded U.S. investments in the global vaccination program as proof of the U.S. commitment to fighting the coronavirus. But the administration has since pulled out of an effort to distribute a Covid vaccine that involved GAVI because it was being co-led by the World Health Organization. At the time, Trump was railing against WHO’s “China-centric” response to the pandemic.
The proposed cuts also come amid the administration’s broader campaign against foreign aid, which Trump has frequently complained about, arguing that other countries aren’t contributing their fair share to global causes.
This is not the first time the Trump administration has tried to claw back funding he already signed into law. In 2018, the administration proposed a $15.4 billion package of spending cuts that would have sliced across 10 federal departments, hitting children’s health insurance and public housing programs. A GOP bill, H.R. 3 (115), to fulfill the president’s request for those cuts passed the Republican-run House that year but was rejected in the Senate amid concerns about nixing unspent Hurricane Sandy recovery funding, among other programs.
In August 2019, the White House was forced to abandon an effort to scrap billions of dollars in foreign aid due to its unpopularity in Congress.
The move comes after the president balked at foreign aid and other funding that was included as part of the coronavirus relief package in December — some of which he has previously approved and even proposed in his own budget requests. The government funding package passed by Congress last month included $1.3 billion for Egypt and the Egyptian military and $134 million for Myanmar, levels also requested by Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget.
“Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it,” Trump complained in a video response to Congress passing the sweeping legislation days before Christmas.
Jennifer Scholtes and Annie Snider contributed to this report.