WASHINGTON — Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney professed to remain a deficit hawk, even as he told a group of policy wonks that he does not know if Washington can balance the federal budget – or even get the annual deficit below $1 trillion – while President Donald Trump is in office.
Speaking to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation at an annual meeting devoted to fiscal fitness, Mulvaney described the atmosphere in Washington as disinterested in fiscal responsibility. “We are not going to cut our way to balance,” Mulvaney argued as he rattled off factors – such as insufficient interest in the House and Senate. “There is no center of gravity for reduced spending in this town.”
As a candidate, Trump boasted he could reduce the deficit in eight years. Instead the national debt rose from nearly $20 trillion when he took the oath of office in January 2017 to more than $22 trillion this year. The United States now owes some $49,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States.
Mulvaney — a former congressman who as a member of the die-hard Freedom Caucus supported a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget — has confessed that the view is different from the West Wing, starting during his first stint in the administration as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
In the course of an interview with CNBC’s Eamon Javers, Mulvaney also admitted that American companies pay for tariffs as importers are forced to write checks – contrary to Trump’s assertions that countries on which tariffs are levied pay the freight. That does not mean consumers pay, Mulvaney argued, as importers negotiate for concessions from their suppliers and currency changes can lower the price of goods.
Mulvaney also talked about what it was like working in the Trump White House. Recently, he said, he was sitting in the office and Trump said he wanted to threaten Mexico with annual tariffs starting June 10 – so Mulvaney wrote up the idea. “That’s actually what happened,” Mulvaney marveled.
It was an awkward moment for the confab. A Tuesday meeting between White House budget crunchers and Senate Republicans scheduled for the afternoon was canceled. A raft of automatic spending cuts slated under the 2011 budget deal will go into effect if Congress does not pass a deal to forego them before the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Before Trump assumed office, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said during a morning session in Washington’s Newseum, budget negotiations tended to be two-sided. With the Trump White House at the table, Yarmuth said, they are now “three-sided” – and with an “unpredictable” element.
It doesn’t help, Yarmuth added, that the postponed Tuesday budget meeting did not include any Senate Democrats.
Yarmouth sees a one in three chance of an agreement before Congress goes into recess for August.
CNN’s Manu Raju peppered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with multiple questions on Trump’s remarks about her – the president called the speaker a “nasty, vindictive horrible person” — and her views on impeachment. When Raju did ask a budget question, Pelosi mugged wide-eyed astonishment that the CNN reporter was asking a policy question.
As to the $22 trillion national debt, Pelosi said, “Well, ask the Republicans who passed the biggest increase in national debt with the interest $2 trillion addition to the national debt. And then they say it’s going to pay for itself. It isn’t.”
The debt swelled from $10.6 trillion to $19.9 trillion under President Barack Obama, who passed a $787 billion stimulus package to blunt the impact of the Great Recession.
Asked about Medicare for all and the Green New Deal, Pelosi replied, “Everything is on the table.”
The center-right American Action Forum estimates the Green New Deal would cost $51 trillion to $93 trillion over ten years.
The free-market Mercatus Center estimated that the Medicare for All Act would add $32.6 trillion to the federal budget.
In response to a Raju question, Pelosi said she was “done with” Trump.
“Oh, wow. Did she really say that?” Mulvaney reacted when asked about Pelosi’s comment.
“No, we’re not done with her. I doubt she’s done with us,” Mulvaney continued. “Is anyone making book on that one as to how long that lasts?”
Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney also talked about what it was like working in the Trump White House. Recently, he said, he was sitting in the office and Trump said he wanted to threaten Mexico with annual tariffs starting June 10 – so Mulvaney wrote up the idea. “That’s actually what happened,” Mulvaney marveled.