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Trump budget chief faces sharp questions during House hearing

Andrew Bahl

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s budget chief defended his administration’s spending proposal during a Wednesday budget hearing, in which lawmakers of both parties issued pointed questions about major spending cuts to a wide range of programs.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, appeared before the House Budget Committee to tout Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, which was formally unveiled Tuesday. That plan quickly met resistance from Republican senators, and at least two of them proclaimed it “dead on arrival.”

During the hearing, Republican members of the committee did not offer a full-throated endorsement of the president’s plan, but they praised certain elements, most notably Mulvaney’s claim that the budget will help eliminate the federal deficit in 10 years.

“For the first time since I’ve been serving on the budget committee, we have a president who is willing to take action to reform government and get our fiscal house in order,” said committee chair Diane Black, R-Tenn., in her opening statement. However, she also noted that the budget process is a “collaborative process” between Congress and the White House, and that changes will be made.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney testifies before the House Budget Committee about President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal. (Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

“It is a huge sea change that a representative of the president brings us a budget that tries to balance and does balance within 10 years,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “We can all disagree on this or that but it is fundamental for going forward.”

At the same time, members also expressed concerns about funding cuts to certain programs, including the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health.

“One place where we think you’re being … penny-wise and pound-foolish is the Centers for Disease Control,” Cole said. “Partly because we think [funding the CDC] is the right thing to do, you want good health outcomes for Americans. But also because it’s fiscally prudent.”

Some of the committee’s more conservative members also questioned Mulvaney’s claim that the budget would spark an economic growth rate of 3 percent without reforming spending on Social Security and Medicare, something Trump pledged to avoid during the campaign.

“You have said the foundation of your budget is 3 percent growth, and I have looked every which way and found that you can’t get there,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C. “It’s disastrously irresponsible.”

For their part, Democrats attacked Mulvaney from different angles, taking him to task over the budget’s cuts to the social safety net and programs ranging from the National Endowment for the Arts to food stamps.

“A budget is an expression of our values,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. “Your values and your boss’ values are appalling. If this is a reflection of our nation’s values, then we really are in a battle for the heart and soul of this country.”

House Budget Committee member Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. questions Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 24, 2017. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Mulvaney disputed concerns from Wasserman Schultz and other Democrats that the budget will leave impoverished Americans without certain benefits.

“We are not going to kick any deserving person off of any meaningful program,” he said.

Other Democrats rebutted Mulvaney’s claim that Trump had upheld his promise not to slash funding for Social Security, noting that the budget would cut Social Security Disability Insurance.

“The president promised that he would not cut Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare,” said Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill. “And after he won the election, with the help of many older Americans, I think we’re seeing today a tremendous betrayal of that promise.”

Mulvaney argued that SSDI gets funds from a different place than Social Security and that it was “a welfare program for the disabled.” He also bristled at Democrats who suggested Trump broke his promise, saying that they were being disingenuous.

“Are you speaking Washington or regular language?” he asked Schakowsky.

Mulvaney will appear before the Senate Budget Committee on Thursday.

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