Mulvaney remarks on Trump budget plan spark confusion

Mulvaney remarks on Trump budget plan spark confusion
© Greg Nash

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said that Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyWho watches the ‘watchdog?’ It time for accountability for the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump suggests China is easing pressure on North Korea because of trade fight | Mulvaney taps top aide as No. 2 at consumer bureau | House Republican to offer bill to curtail Trump's trade powers MORE would vote for President TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE’s budget proposal if he were still in Congress after the OMB director suggested he would not during a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

Mulvaney, who was on Capitol Hill to defend the proposal, said he “probably would have found enough shortcomings” in the document to vote against it if he were still a congressman. But the OMB said Mulvaney was referring to a spending cap deal reached last week, not the actual Trump budget.

It was the most memorable moment of Mulvaney’s hearing, a Capitol Hill ritual the day after the presidential budget request’s release.

During the Senate Budget Committee’s hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTop Dems urge Trump officials to reverse suspension of ObamaCare payments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families Jane Fonda: Kavanaugh confirmation would be a 'catastrophe' MORE (D-Wash.) asked Mulvaney if he would have voted for “this budget that you’re presenting.” She noted that Mulvaney said over the weekend that he wouldn’t have voted for the deal Trump signed last week to increase spending caps by about $300 billion over two years.

“I can give the same answer I gave on Sunday, which is that as a member of Congress representing the 5th District of South Carolina, I probably would have found enough shortcomings in this to vote against it, as did many members of this committee,” Mulvaney replied. “But I’m the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and my job is to try and fund the president’s priorities, which is exactly what we did.”

The comments attracted attention, since it would be highly unusual for an OMB director to criticize the budget he spearheaded.

But an OMB spokeswoman claimed that Mulvaney wasn’t talking about Trump’s budget when he replied to Murray.

“Just to be clear, Director Mulvaney was referring to the recent caps deal when answering Senator Murray’s question this morning. Naturally, he would vote for the President’s [fiscal 2019] budget that he released yesterday,” OMB spokeswoman Meghan Burris said in a statement.

Mulvaney, a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was known in Congress as a fiscal hawk who voted against spending deals.

Regardless of how Mulvaney would have voted on Trump’s budget, it’s clear that, as OMB director, he has supported measures that he would have found unappealing as a lawmaker. In September, Mulvaney came to Capitol Hill to sell GOP lawmakers on a deal to raise the debt limit that he likely would have opposed if still in Congress.

Mulvaney appears to have a good relationship with Trump — in addition to running the OMB, the president named him acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in November. Mulvaney’s name has also been floated as a potential future White House chief of staff.

The president’s budget still reflects some of Mulvaney’s priorities and includes proposals to cut deficits by more than $3 trillion over 10 years.

But Trump’s budget, which Mulvaney took a lead role in developing, doesn’t balance — a departure from previous Republican budget proposals.

“I was surprised to hear Director Mulvaney being so honest with me about the fact that he was asking us to support a budget he’d never vote for as a Congressman—and then I was disappointed that the White House refused to let this honesty stand and Director Mulvaney was forced to backtrack on his very clear statement to me," Murray said in a statement.

Republicans were comfortable with Mulvaney’s remarks and praised his honesty.

“I thought he gave a pretty good explanation for the question, which was one of those tough questions,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziForcing faith-based agencies out of the system is a disservice to women Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs Ryan throws weight behind two-year spending reform MORE (R-Wyo.) told reporters after the hearing. “You’re hired by this president to do a budget for this president with this president’s priorities. And he did, but it wouldn’t necessarily be his priorities.”

Another Budget Committee member, Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), said he thinks Mulvaney “was being honest.”

“He’s no longer a congressman. He’s an OMB director,” he said. “He has a client. It’s called the American people and the president of the United States.”

Enzi added that in the past, when presidents’ budgets are put to a vote in Congress, they are unanimously or near-unanimously voted down. Mulvaney as a House member had put then-President Obama’s budgets up for votes in an effort to put Democrats on the record about Obama’s plans.

“I don’t even like the idea of putting them up for a vote, because this is just a list of a president’s pretty good suggestions,” Enzi said.

During the hearing, Mulvaney defended the fact that Trump’s budget doesn’t balance within 10 years.

He said he told lawmakers last year that he was concerned the administration wouldn’t be able to offer balanced budgets going forward if changes weren’t made to the spending trajectory. He also said that the numbers in this year’s budget are “even more solid” than the numbers in last year’s document.

“I’d rather bring you numbers that are true and honest, that set forth a better picture of our fiscal condition, than lie to you and tell you the budget would balance in 10 years,” he said.

Mulvaney also promoted other aspects of the budget and the administration’s agenda, including the tax-cut law Trump signed in December, the administration’s request for $18 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and the budget’s support for legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Republicans spoke favorably of Mulvaney and the budget throughout the hearing.

“I do want to applaud you for creating a more real budget,” said Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Flake to introduce resolution countering Trump's Russia summit rhetoric Corker: Trump made US look 'like a pushover' MORE (R-Tenn.), who has been vocal about deficits and voted against the spending caps deal.

But Democrats and outside groups have still been critical of the economic assumptions used in the budget, such as its projection that gross domestic product would grow by an average of 3 percent annually.

Democratic senators blasted the budget during the hearing, arguing that the White House values tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations over help for the middle class. They said that the budget breaks Trump’s campaign promise to not touch Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“Everything we see in this budget is about help to the powerful and an assault on working Americans,” said Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks Schumer: Does Putin have 'damaging information' on Trump? Dem senator says it's ‘likely’ Putin has something on Trump MORE (D-Ore.).

Mulvaney said administration officials “absolutely keep our promises” and didn’t propose making changes to Social Security retirement benefits or services for Medicare recipients.