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 MulvaneyTrump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request Scaramucci thanks John Kelly for speaking up against Trump Trump lashes out over Kelly criticism: 'He misses the action' MORE would vote for President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press 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.

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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 MurraySenate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign Democratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students Lawmakers with first-hand experience using food stamps call on Trump not to cut program 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 EnziLawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts Republicans scramble to avoid Medicare land mine McConnell will not bring budget resolution to the floor 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 CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight 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 Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign Senate Democrats introduce legislation to change impeachment trial rules Hillicon Valley: Facebook suspends misinformation networks targeting US | Lawmakers grill census officials on cybersecurity | Trump signs order to protect GPS | Dem senators propose federal facial recognition moratorium 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.