At his first Senate confirmation hearing, Representative Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the White House budget office, met with a long list of partisan questions from Democrats.
“Fundamental changes are needed in the way Washington spends and taxes if we truly want a healthy economy,” Mulvaney said his statement to the committee. “This must include changing our government’s long-term fiscal path — which is unsustainable.”
Mulvaney, a three-term Congressman from South Carolina, has been nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Rep. has received the support of such organizations as The Heritage Foundation, and FreedomWorks, and is well known for his expertise with federal budgeting. Mulvaney was, for instance, the co-author of the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act aimed at lowering and capping federal spending and to enact a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution.
But during his confirmation, the Democrat members of the Senate Budget Committee seemed more interested in partisan political agendas and causes than the budgeting responsibilities of the office Mulvaney would head if confirmed.
Senator Bernie Sanders led the charge by bringing up Planned Parenthood, rolling out the false claim that “millions of women get healthcare” from the agency. Mulvaney said he had voted not to defund women’s healthcare, as Sanders charged, but to defund Planned Parenthood and to move the money spent on that group to the community-based healthcare services that actually do offer healthcare to poor clients.
Rhode Island Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse suggested that past congressional efforts to fix the budgeting process only gave help to “Wall Street and Polluters.” Mulvaney wisely demurred.
Next up, Virginia Democrat Senator Mark Warner implied that Mulvaney’s signing of Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge when he became a Congressman would make him ill suited to advising the president if a tax hike were to end up in discussion.
Mulvaney parried, saying that his signature on the pledge as a congressman would not be binding, as he would be advising the president on policy ideas and would be asked to score for budgetary soundness.
“I’m changing from being a representative of people back home to advising the president of the United States,” Mulvaney noted at one point in the hearing.
Warner’s fellow Virginian, Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine, attacked Trump’s freeze on new federal workers, saying that hiring freezes will make it too hard for citizens to get services from government. He also said the freeze will make for a low morale and a low performance federal workforce. Mulvaney disagreed.
Kaine asked what would happen if there were “a full repeal of the Obamacare without a replacement,” but Mulvaney said repeatedly that no one is proposing there be no replacement to Obamacare.
Then Sen. Kaine, the losing Democrat candidate for Vice President, insisted Mulvaney agree that man-made climate change is a fact. Mulvaney said he didn’t see what the line of questioning had to do with the OMB.
Oregon Dem. Sen. Jeff Merkley attacked Trump for “embracing a fantasy” on the inauguration attendance. In reply Mulvaney again asked what the questions had to do with the OMB.
Merkley also claimed that a “sense of justice” would mean that tax cuts for the rich added to cuts in government programs are bad things. Mulvaney said he could not comment on any tax plans or ideas he had not seen.
Making clear she would vote “no” on Mulvaney’s confirmation, Washington Democrat Sen. Patty Murray slammed Mulvaney for not paying taxes on a household employee a decade ago and said Mulvaney has no record as a Congressman of reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats. Mulvaney replied that he would have no problem working with Democrats but reiterated that his commitment would be to the President and not any outside or special interests.
Murray said she was proud to attend the Women’s March and berated Trump for comments about women made during the campaign. She then demanded that Mulvaney disavow cuts to women’s programs, but Mulvaney said he couldn’t comment on specific cuts because there are no proposals before him.
Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson noted that if there are no changes to Social Security, young people will not likely receive their benefits. Mulvaney added that a 40-year-old today will only get 77% of his benefits if nothing is changed.
Arkansas Republican Sen. John Boozman next asserted that the continuing budget resolutions Congress has been relying on to fund the government make it hard for government agencies (especially Dept. of Defense) to make long term budgetary decisions. Mulvaney said he’d urge a return to the full, normal budgeting process and do away with repeated continuing resolutions.
Mulvaney also said he’d urge Trump to go back to Paygo budgeting. (A budget rule requiring that new legislation affecting revenues and spending on entitlement programs, taken as a whole, does not increase projected budget deficits.)
Several Republican Senators also slammed their Democrat colleagues for turning the hearing into a partisan attack instead of a serious discussion about how Mulvaney would run the OMB.
Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue criticized the proceedings as too partisan and filled with silly questions about climate change and crowd sizes.
Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner noted that too many Senators present implied that Mulvaney supports the poor getting poorer. Gardner said that a growing economy is good for everyone and asked Mulvaney if he’d support regulatory reform. Mulvaney said he would and added, “Regulatory cost is the most regressive tax [in] that it falls most heavily on the poor,” Mulvaney said.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee joked, “You told me being OMB director was your dream job. You’re slightly odd, but I thank you for [your] desire to want to do this.” The quip got a chuckle from most in the room.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com.