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Before Joining Trump Administration, Mick Mulvaney Acted As Anti-Deficit Crusader


When President Trump's budget came out yesterday, it projected deficits for years to come. The man tasked with delivering that news was Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget who spent years in Congress building a reputation as one of the biggest champions of fiscal restraint. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has more.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney arrived in Congress in 2011 as part of the Tea Party wave and almost immediately took Republican leaders to task for planning to offer a budget that didn't cut spending enough.


MICK MULVANEY: We're talking about offering a Republican budget that would be near or in excess of $1 trillion in deficit. I can tell you there's not a lot of support for that amongst the freshmen that I talked to.

KEITH: That was Mulvaney in an interview on C-SPAN in January 2011. The presidential budget Mulvaney unveiled yesterday projects near-trillion dollar deficits in each of the next five years.


MULVANEY: So this is the question, right? Does it balance? No, it doesn't.

KEITH: In his time as a congressman, Mulvaney held frequent town hall meetings back in his district, complete with PowerPoint presentations to try to explain what was happening in Washington to the folks back home.


MULVANEY: Is the place really as crazy as we hear that it is? And, of course, the answer to that is yes.


KEITH: This one in 2013 was in a packed auditorium in Rock Hill, S.C. And, of course, his PowerPoint included slides about the deficit and national debt. He swapped out billions and trillions for figures that would be more relatable.


MULVANEY: I want you to stop and think about what your family would be like, what your business would be like, if that was your financial circumstance. You were making about $50,000 every single year. You're spending about $80,000 every single year, and you owe $220,000 on the credit card. That's a problem.

KEITH: Now that he's at the White House, Mulvaney says it's still a problem.


MULVANEY: I do think that spending a bunch of money that we don't have is wrong. I'm just telling you that this is the cards that we've been dealt as an administration. This is how we would prefer to spend the money if it's going to get spent. We just don't think you have to spend all of it.

KEITH: The White House role in this isn't as passive as Mulvaney would make it sound. President Trump was a strong advocate of the big tax cut that is currently eating into government revenues. And Trump signed the budget bill last week calculating that he could live with the increases in domestic spending Democrats wanted in order to get the bigger boost in defense spending he and many other Republicans wanted. At one point during his budget briefing with reporters yesterday, a TV correspondent referred to Mulvaney as a one-time deficit hawk.



MULVANEY: No, no, still-time deficit hawk. Thank you.

KEITH: Mulvaney bristled at the idea that he's changed and pointed out accurately that Congress is in charge of appropriations.


MULVANEY: You know, we sent up $54 billion worth of reductions last year. They took five and pounded the hell out of me while they were doing it, right?

KEITH: So no, he insisted, it's not hypocritical.


MULVANEY: It's simply adjusting to the Washington, D.C., that we live in and a Washington, D.C., where we have to have Democrat votes to support any spending bill at all because every spending bill takes 60 votes.

KEITH: Just for the record, the budget bill passed the Senate last week with a roughly even split between Republicans and Democrats. In the House, it had the support of many more Republicans than Democrats. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.