By Patricia Zengerle and Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's administration backed off on Tuesday on plans to bypass Congress and roll back billions of dollars from the U.S. foreign aid budget after stiff resistance from lawmakers, a senior lawmaker, congressional aides and U.S. officials said.
Reuters reported on Aug. 16 that the White House Office of Management and Budget had asked the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to submit information for a "rescission" package that would have led to sharp cuts in foreign assistance.
Trump's focus on his "America First" agenda has meant fewer funds for foreign assistance and his administration has pushed repeatedly to cut the amount of money sent abroad since he took office in January 2017.
Republican and Democratic Senate and House of Representatives aides said the administration abandoned the plan after objections from members of Congress, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
An OMB spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The rescission 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 have cut foreign assistance already approved by Congress.
Several administration officials had said the OMB was targeting roughly $3.5 billion in funds no longer needed for their original purpose, taking advantage of a loophole in the law to do so at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
The cuts could have included more than $200 million that Trump froze in March for recovery efforts in Syria.
Democratic U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, the vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the decision was welcome.
"Rescinding funds that had been agreed to by Congress and signed into law by the President, in the waning days of the fiscal year, would have set a terrible precedent and harmed programs that further United States interests around the world," Leahy said in a statement.
The Trump administration tried to slash foreign aid when it submitted this year's budget, but lawmakers objected and Trump ended up signing a budget that did not include the cuts.
The administration tried to use the rescission process earlier this year to slash $15 billion in domestic spending, including $7 billion for a children's health insurance programme. That plan failed to pass Congress.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Chris Reese and Peter Cooney)