Senate Confirms Trump's Budget Nominee Mulvaney in a Close Vote

  • McCain votes no because of next OMB chief’s military stance
  • Mulvaney favors less spending on social programs, entitlements

Representative Mick Mulvaney is sworn in during a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24.

Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg

Mick Mulvaney, who has focused his Washington career on driving down federal spending -- even at the risk of shutting down the government and defaulting on the debt -- won confirmation Thursday as President Donald Trump’s budget chief.

The Senate’s 51-49 vote to put the South Carolina congressman in charge of the Office of Management and Budget sends Mulvaney into the center of all federal spending decisions. Among them: funding the government for the rest of fiscal 2017, because the current spending law runs only through April 28.

Mulvaney will present Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request to Congress in the coming months, and has said he would recommend the president pay for infrastructure investment and a military buildup with deep spending cuts, including to entitlements.

“He will do a spectacular job of this,” Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi said on the Senate floor. “He will be a voice for fiscal restraint, responsible budgets and for honest budgeting that avoids the use of gimmicks such as emergency funding designations for non-emergencies.”

Mulvaney was first elected to Congress as part of the 2010 Tea Party wave. He built a record as an aggressive advocate for budget cuts, and as an opponent of using emergency war funds to avoid caps on military spending

That led Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain to oppose the nomination because of Mulvaney’s record on military spending. Aging Committee Chairman Susan Collins of Maine and Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran waited until Wednesday evening to signal their support.

All Senate Democrats voted against confirmation.

“He has used debt ceiling and shutdown as a leverage to gain his way on points of lesser importance than whether the government stays open,” Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine said in a Senate floor speech.

Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida, where the Census Bureau estimates that 19.4 percent of the state’s population is 65 or older, said he worried that Mulvaney would push to restrain the growth of entitlement programs by making seniors wait until age 67 for Medicare and age 70 for Social Security.

“He called Social Security a Ponzi scheme. He further has said he supports turning Medicare into a voucher system,” Nelson said on the Senate floor.

In his confirmation hearing, Mulvaney told senators he would recommend that Trump reverse his campaign promise not to cut Medicare and Social Security, because phased-in cuts for future seniors now would keep the program solvent.

“I talked to him about my concern that he had never voted for a budget or a debt limit increase and he said that he recognized he would have a very different role as an OMB director than he would as a congressman from South Carolina,” Collins said in an interview after a private meeting with Mulvaney.

As a congressman, Mulvaney opposed a stopgap spending bill needed to keep the government running into the early months of the Trump administration, objected to using budget gimmicks to let the Pentagon avoid the pain of automatic spending cuts, and was one of the ringleaders of a breakaway group of lawmakers who bristled at the willingness of their fellow Republicans, then led by Speaker John Boehner, to govern through compromise.

Their group, the House Freedom Caucus, was a thorn in Boehner’s side and a contributing factor to the Ohioan’s 2015 decision to quit without finishing his term in office.

Shutdown Provocateur

Mulvaney was one of the leaders of the effort to defund Obamacare that resulted in a 16-day partial government shutdown. The government reopened without cuts to Obamacare.

He also wasn’t successful when he pushed his colleagues to offset the extra dollars spent on emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy by subtracting money approved for some other government purpose.

He so distanced himself from the governing wing of the Republican Party that he refused at campaign time to kick in money to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

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