Can Mick Mulvaney Tame the Budget?

Trump's pick for the Office of Management and Budget isn't afraid to take on reckless defense spending.


Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

In his 1986 memoirs, The Triumph of Politics, David Stockman wrote: "The politicians were wrecking American capitalism. They were turning democratic government into a lavish giveaway auction. They were saddling workers and entrepreneurs with punitive taxation and demoralizing and wasteful regulation." For the four years he served as President Ronald Reagan's budget director, Stockman fought for his vision of sustained economic growth and social progress through sound money, lower tax rates and curtailment of federal spending, welfare and subsidies to private interests.

Unfortunately, he lost his dream of a true Reagan revolution because many congressional politicians refused to implement the big spending cuts that had to be matched with the big tax cuts. And as he soon figured out, "the Democrats were getting so much Republican help in their efforts to keep the pork barrel flowing and the welfare state intact." All the Republican Party was willing to fight for, it seems, was more defense spending and lower taxes, even if the numbers didn't add up in the end.

Little has changed today. Yet there is some reason for optimism, as President-elect Donald Trump has just nominated a lawmaker who seems to want to pick up the work just where Stockman left it 30 years ago at the Office of Management and Budget. That guy is Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican and a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Like Stockman, Mulvaney is an outspoken fiscal hawk who isn't afraid to fight against the establishment and for spending cuts. Better yet, like Stockman, he isn't afraid to go after the Republican sacred cow—defense spending. That point is significant in a party whose lawmakers tend to favor military budget increases and oppose reductions no matter how unrealistic the proposals are.

Mulvaney has also shown that he isn't scared to work with Democrats when he has to. For instance, he has a history of teaming up with Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to go after the beloved Republican practice of keeping war funding (money in the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO) separate from the regular defense budget. As he has pointed out repeatedly, this is nothing more than a budget gimmick to avoid spending caps on military spending.

Having fewer budget constraints means there's a readily available slush fund for Congress. As the nonpartisan nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense documented, "stuffing OCO full of the projects in Bahrain, Djibouti, Italy, Oman, Poland and Niger as a way to avoid those caps demonstrates a blatant disregard for fiscal responsibility and an unwillingness to make the hard choices necessary to prioritize investments." No kidding.

Mulvaney has also proved to be a great ally in the fight against cronyism. In fact, he fought vigorously against the Export-Import Bank of the United States, an outfit that extends taxpayer-backed loans to mostly large or state-owned foreign companies to buy goods from large, politically well-connected American companies.

He deserves particular credit because the bank's main beneficiary, Boeing, actually operates in his district. Stockman, too, was a fervent advocate of shutting down the Ex-Im Bank. He wrote: "Export subsidies are a mercantilist illusion. … I had long insisted, to any liberal who would listen, that the supply-side revolution would be different from the corrupted opportunism of the organized business groups; that it would go after weak claims like Boeing's, not just weak clients such as food stamp recipients." It seems to me that's what Mulvaney has been trying to do.

There is more to say, of course. But I will conclude by admitting that even though I welcome Mulvaney's nomination wholeheartedly, I also accept the possibility that I will, one day, buy another book by a former budget director about how the pro-spenders and special interests continued to carry the day in Washington.


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  1. More good news, not only absolutely, but in comparison to who Hillary would have chosen and in fact who all Presidents have chosen since probably Stockman.

    I know Trump's just a goddam cronyist, but compared to what most people were expecting, and what Hillary would have been, it's like a breath of fresh air.

    1. From now on no one should be able to use any variation of the word "Crony" in any manner except ironically without defining the word and providing at least one example of what they mean. I think that that word has been raped enough. Lets give it some of its virtue back.

      1. crony (n) - a member of a gang that pursues wealth by political means

        There will be plenty of things to criticize during the Trump Administration, but Trump probably won't be a much of a cronyist because he doesn't have many political friends and doesn't owe many political favors. Also, his track record in ignoring demands for political favors is impressive: he seems to have dumped both Giuliani and Christie.

        So far his appointments have far exceeded my low expectations. Versus a contrafactual Hillary Administration, they are stellar. (Think Paul Krugman as heading up the OMB, for example. I'm sure he'd consider the job beneath him, so consider one of his acolytes in the position.)

        1. I was thinking he could be a nice change. He seems to be shrinking the presidency. Trump is still just flogging his fucking hotel rooms.

      2. You're right John that a crony is a long time friend. But we also know what anyone who uses the word here means, and it means someone who "invests" in a politician via legal campaign cash or other favors (legal or not) in the expectation of government favors that the politicians shouldn't be able to sell nor should they be selling.

    2. compared to what most people were expecting

      "Most people" were wrong it appears. You cosmos fucked up by swallowing the fake news feed that precedes the comments.

  2. I just hope he will realize that no government program can be "reduced", only eliminated. Any reduction will eventually be restored by a succeeding legislative session. HHS, EPA, Education, the list goes on and on.
    On a personal curiosity level, can anyone explain why those who claim to believe in evolution support a federal department that is designed and well funded solely to interfere with evolution?

    1. That's simply not true. There have been a great many gov't programs in the USA or parts thereof, & I'm sure in other countries, that continue to exist for a long period as a mere shell of what they once were. Consider for example the Selective Service System.

    2. if you dont believe in the theory of evolution please do the gene pool a favour..go to the largest sky scrapper you can find and jump off the roof and test the theory of gravity

  3. Funny, Veronica never sees any spending that is reckless except defense spending.

    1. I disagree John. She brings up the Export Import Bank as one example in this article. She's also brought up the internet gambling ban (why spend money enforcing that?), Social Security, corporate welfare (Idaho potatoes, Catapiller, Harley Davidson, agricultural subsidies, Elon Musk, etc.), etc. Perhaps she brings up spending the Republicans support more, because unlike the Democrats they claim they are for less spending and limited government. And in that way, they are worse than Democrats because they are liars about spending and deficits.

  4. Kill the budget with fire. Before it lays any eggs.


    1. Congress determines the spending. The President can propose a budget, but at the end he only accept or veto the budget bills they send him. He has a bully pulpit, but not the power everyone ascribes to a president. Congress takes the credit when things go right and lets the President take the heat when it doesn't.

      1. Excellent point Diane. But I think (hope?) Trump may be different because he doesn't really need to raise a lot of money to get elected/re-elected, he doesn't owe any Republican politicians any favors, and while he's attempted to buy political favors (and very unsuccessfully - getting only the booby prize of Hillary attending his wedding which is something I wouldn't want) he hasn't succeeded. So he knows the games politicians play, and has rejected those who play them. Note the rejection of big spenders Christie and Guiliani. I can't think of a better choice than Mulvaney from a libertarian perspective for heading the OMB, which also does the accounting for all the government departments. It might take several years to have an impact, but I think Mulvaney can do it.

        A psychiatrist friend said they were sure Trump really wanted to MAGA, as opposed to being in it for the money. I had predicted Trump would be a disaster. Perhaps he is a closet libertarian. His first target was Rand Paul; thus, suggesting he knew who his real competition was.

        Regarding your point, Trump unlike the RINOs we have, and thanks to the nuclear option, will get his appointments. And will be calling out RINOs when they block his efforts. Calling out RINOs has been very successful in getting rid of Cantor and Boehner. And I'm sure many RINOs in Congress are considering their re-elections. They won't get a pass from Trump if they oppose him.

  6. How can we help him?

  7. Since spending for Defense of the Nation is only about 16% of all federal spending, plus 4% for veterans' affairs, even a radical clean-up of waste in Defense will be trivial. Also, that gain in efficiency will be offset with brand new spending in areas where Defense is weak.

    Social Services consumes nearly 70% of federal spending. That's where the budget must be tamed.

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