There’s a story here but I’ll warn you up front it’s a fairly thin reed. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney spoke during the White House press briefing today. He was asked a series of questions about budget cuts now on the drawing board and at one point a reporter asked him “why not tackle entitlements?”
While Mulvaney didn’t say the White House was pursuing entitlement reform, he also didn’t rule it out when given the chance. “This is a budget blueprint, what some folks used to call a skinny budget, and it would not be at all unusual for larger policy decision including tax reform, revenue projections not to be included in this budget,” he said. This “skinny” budget will be released in March. A full budget is not expected until May.
The reporter pressed the question, “So down the line could we see some type of attempt to deal with entitlements?” Before she had even finished the question, Mulvaney replied, “A full budget would contain the entire spectrum of the president’s proposed policy changes.” Again, that’s a long way from a promise that entitlements are on the table, but it does sound as it there could be an opening for them to be somewhere down the line.
Later, Mara Liasson asked White House spokesman Sean Spicer to clarify the OMB director’s comments regarding entitlements. Spicer said the president would stand by his promise not to change entitlements, though he would not say absolutely whether that applied to current beneficiaries of the programs or to all future beneficiaries as well.
So one way to take this is that the OMB Director was talking process and Spicer clarified there was no change here. The other way to read this is that the OMB Director left the door open and Spicer clarified this won’t violate the president’s pledge while admitting it’s not clear exactly how far this pledge goes. So maybe there’s still a narrow gap there where some kind of entitlement reform for future retirees (in the case of Social Security) and beneficiaries (in the case of Medicare) could happen in the full budget.
And that would be good news, because as Spicer pointed out today, we’re very close to $20 trillion in debt now. Unless entitlements are reformed that number will continue to rise.