WASHINGTON ― One year ago, the man who serves as the Trump administration’s chief accountant was one of Washington’s most outspoken deficit hawks. Now tax cuts that would disproportionately benefit wealthy Americans and businesses are on the table, and he’s decidedly more dove-ish.
During an appearance on “CNN Sunday” this weekend, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the tax reform framework being pushed by the White House would likely lead to increased deficits, at least in the short term.
That’s OK with him.
“I’ve been very candid about this. We need to have new deficits because of that. We need to have the growth,” Mulvaney said. “If we simply look at this as being deficit-neutral, you’re never going to get the type of tax reform and tax reductions that you need to get to sustain 3 percent economic growth.”
But when he represented South Carolina in the House ― a job he vacated in February ― Mulvaney was one of Congress’ most outspoken opponents of deficit spending. In particular, he was a vocal supporter of an amendment to the Constitution that would require the federal government to incur no more debt.
“A balanced budget amendment would force Washington to do the same thing that your family, your church, your business, your school, and even your state and local governments have to do: prioritize spending,” Mulvaney said during an October 2016 debate. “Your family has to make tough decisions over what to buy ― and what not to buy; Washington should be forced to do the same thing.”
During the Obama administration, Mulvaney regularly criticized the White House for budgets that he deemed too fiscally reckless.
“It’s hard to call it a budget if it never really balances,” he said during a March 2012 House Budget Committee hearing. “Is that a plan for the future? Is that really the country that we want to live in, where we’re spending that much money on interest payments for the deficits that we’ve run up during the ― during these years?”
Mulvaney was among a group of far-right House Republicans who led the federal government to shut down in 2013. Before that, he had urged a government shutdown if Obamacare was not defunded. “Sooner or later, you have to stand up and fight for what you believe in,” he told WCRS radio in Greenwood, South Carolina.
He would later abandon that position during talks to end the shutdown in October 2013. Referring to GOP colleagues who were willing to negotiate over Obamacare defunding, Mulvaney told the Greenville News, “That is their political fund-raising and activism wing, and I respect that.”
Several nonpartisan analyses have shown that repealing Obamacare would actually lead to increased deficits, due in part to the health care law’s tax increase for wealthy Americans and its emphasis on keeping medical costs down.
Mulvaney has been loath to show as much leniency for deficit spending on other matters. He was among a group of ultra-conservative Republicans who founded the House Freedom Caucus in early 2015, in part because the Republican Study Committee, the traditional caucus for conservative House Republicans, was deemed too liberal.
In 2013, Mulvaney nearly derailed a relief package for victims of Hurricane Sandy when he demanded that the aid be deficit-neutral. “I support the Sandy relief, but I think we ought to pay for it,” he said at the time. “I am not one of those Republicans who believe that providing emergency relief is not the role of federal government. I just think we should do it responsibly.”
In 2014, Mulvaney called a $3.7 billion request by the Obama administration to handle an influx of refugee children “a charade.”
The Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget, a document that Mulvaney was actively involved in drafting, contains steep cuts to a number of popular government programs, including $1 trillion from Medicaid.
Mulvaney’s past focus on balanced budgets even led him to consider reducing military spending, an idea long anathema to many Republicans. “If we are going to balance the budget, then all spending needs to be scrutinized, including the Pentagon,” he wrote on Facebook in August 2016.
A spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment.