House Dems Say White House Is Holding Up WHO Funding

By Asher Stockler
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Law360 (November 20, 2020, 8:09 PM EST) -- Senior Democrats in the House of Representatives accused the White House on Friday of holding up congressionally authorized funds from the World Health Organization, comparing the tactic to one used during the Ukraine impeachment scandal.

Reps. Nita Lowey and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and John Yarmuth, D-Ky., chairs of the Appropriations, Oversight and Budget committees respectively, released documents they obtained from the Office of Management and Budget showing that funds obligated to international organizations had been delayed this summer via footnote.

The international organizations account is how the U.S. funds its contributions to WHO. The footnote, the same method used to withhold security assistance to Ukraine, prevented the U.S. State Department from expending the funds until OMB received "a written explanation" as to how the expenditure would meet "the president's priorities."

The footnotes were signed and dated August 2020, months after President Donald Trump vowed to slash America's payments to WHO. OMB did not return a request for comment.

"The Trump administration's rampant abuse of power has jeopardized our communities, subverted our democracy, violated our laws, and now it has undermined global efforts to fight the coronavirus," Lowey, Yarmuth and Maloney said in a statement. "In his transparent attempt to scapegoat the WHO for his administration's failure to contain and crush the virus, President Trump announced he would unilaterally terminate U.S. funding for the WHO."

The funds at issue were reportedly released in late September, but the State Department said weeks before the move that it would reroute the remaining portion of WHO-directed funds for fiscal 2020 "to partially pay other UN assessments."

A separate report from the House Budget Committee also released Friday specifically called the move unlawful under the 1974 Impoundment Control Act, which requires the president to actually spend appropriated funds except in limited circumstances.

The act allows for funding to be deferred "to achieve savings" or for specific contingencies. The Budget Committee's report instead called the delay a "policy" deferral and compared it to the Ukraine footnote.

After the Ukraine scandal, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found the holdup of military aid to be policy-driven. "The ICA does not permit deferrals for policy reasons," the agency said.

In April, Yarmuth introduced the Power of the Purse Act, designed to shore up Congress' authority over the federal budget. The bill would require the president to make funds available 90 days before they are set to expire, even if they are subject to a deferral. It would also require OMB to release apportionment documents to the public.

The WHO funds represent just the latest criticism over the Trump administration's foreign policy approach to COVID-19. On Thursday, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., sent a letter to President Trump excoriating his response to Russian thefts of COVID-related research.

"I am angered by these government sponsored cyber-attacks and your lack of action to deter them over the past months," Peters wrote. "This is not about keeping COVID-19 vaccine research for Americans alone, it is about ensuring that the institutions performing this research are not experiencing intrusions onto their systems that could disrupt or destroy this research."

--Editing by Brian Baresch.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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