Quigley Questions OMB Director About Hold on Ukraine Assistance
Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), Chair of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) and a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), questioned Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Russ Vought on OMB’s decision to withhold foreign assistance from Ukraine while President Trump attempted to pressure Ukraine into opening investigations into his political rivals. Vought’s appearance before the Appropriations Committee marked his first appearance before Congress since flouting a Congressional subpoena from HPSCI during the impeachment inquiry.
During the FSGG hearing on OMB’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget, Quigley pressed Vought, who was closely involved in the decision, on how OMB decided to withhold Congressionally directed foreign assistance funding and what prompted them to release the funds after the whistleblower complaint came to light. Vought repeatedly refused to answer questions about the OMB hold. Quigley pushed Acting Director Vought further and reminded him that Congress has the constitutional “power of the purse” and the appropriations process only works if Congress knows that funding will be spent as directed.
In January, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) determined that withholding these funds was unlawful, saying the President cannot “substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.” During today’s hearing, Vought was unable to provide a justification for the hold and disputed GAO’s legal conclusion.
Quigley’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is also available below:
Good morning. Thank you all for joining us today.
I would like to welcome the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russ Vought.
By the standards of government, OMB is a tiny agency. But it plays a role in almost everything the Federal government does. It develops Presidential funding priorities, oversees cybersecurity and IT spending, and helps set human resources policy for the government.
This year, OMB is asking for a budget increase of more than $14 million. After accounting for transfers from other accounts, that’s more than a 10% boost.
I would like to think that OMB is finally recognizing the value provided by civil servants. However, it quickly becomes clear that this is not the case.
While OMB has requested additional resources to expand its workface, it expects much of the rest of the government to tighten its belt.
This Budget slashes billions from the EPA and Department of Education. It cuts medical research by $3.3 billion and reduces CDC funding. It eliminates Community Development Block Grants and low-income assistance programs.
OMB has proposed some of these cuts year after year, even though Congress has stepped in repeatedly to restore critical accounts.
This Budget proposes non-defense spending that is $45 billion below last year’s bipartisan funding deal. This is funding that could go toward essential government programs.
This year’s Budget also continues the Administration’s harsh policy of cutting programs that support this country’s most vulnerable, all in service of failed trickle-down economic policies.
In other hearings before this subcommittee – and perhaps again here today - we have heard that the Republican tax cuts are working. They are not. They will end up costing almost 2 trillion dollars. We knew in 2017 these cuts would not pay for themselves, and we still know it today.
This Administration will not admit that tax reform is dramatically increasing our deficits. Instead, they now claim that the only solution is to cut Medicare and Social Security.
Finally, I must point out the ways in which OMB has illegally blocked appropriations, putting important priorities at risk and delaying essential spending.
Just last month OMB approved a work plan by the Army Corp of Engineers that does not include much needed funding for Great Lakes resiliency and environmental preservation. This is just the latest in a long line of repeated OMB changes to the Corps Workplan that seem to emphasize places that are important to the President politically and personally over areas of genuine need.
Additionally, OMB improperly blocked essential foreign assistance to Ukraine. They used a legitimate budgeting mechanism for an illegal purpose.
By taking this step OMB politicized some of the most routine work at the agency. It saddens me that this is what our country has come to.
I don’t have to remind you that the Constitution vests Congress with the power of the purse. As GAO recently said, when it determined the Ukraine withholding was unlawful, the President cannot “substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.”
The appropriations process only works if Congress knows that funding will be spent as directed.
I look forward to further understanding your rational for withholding the funding and hearing your explanation for the numerous cuts proposed in this year’s budget.