Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney says President Trump removed elements of entitlement reform from a proposed budget. In an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood, Mulvaney said he presented the president with a list of budget options which included some changes to Social Security. “And he looked at one and said, ‘What is that?'” Mulvaney said. He continued, “And I said, ‘Well, that’s a change to part of Social Security.’ He said, ‘No. No.’ He said, ‘I told people I wouldn’t change that when I ran. And I’m not going to change that. Take that off the list.'”
Later on, Harwood asked if this was a message to congressional Republicans that entitlement reform was out of the picture for the entire time Trump is in office. From CNBC:
MULVANEY: No. I think the message to the House and Senate is, “Look, you go do what you think is best.” And I voted for Medicare premium support in the past when it was part of the Ryan budget. My guess is the House will do either that or something similar to that.
HARWOOD: Because of his pledge, President Trump would veto it?
MULVANEY: That’s not a really conducive way to sort of maintain a relationship between the executive and the administrative branch. Let them pass that and let’s talk about it.
So the White House won’t propose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare but Congress can still pursue those changes on its own initiative. At some point, that disagreement would become a subject of negotiations between the two branches of government. Would Trump veto a bill that contained money for his border wall and, possibly, hundreds of billions for infrastructure to kill a future change to Social Security that doesn’t impact current retirees? Mulvaney is suggesting that’s an open question.
At base, there’s a question about how serious President Trump is about dealing with the national debt. Harwood asked Mulvaney “What about the goal of eliminating the debt, which President Trump at one point said he would do at the end of his second term?” Mulvaney replied, “It’s fairly safe to assume that was hyperbole. I’m not going to be able to pay off $20 trillion worth of debt in four years.” He added, “The reason the president doesn’t want to change some of the mandatory spending is because the public’s not ready for it yet. They’re ready for economic growth.”
That sounds to me like the oldest shell game in Washington, i.e. we’ll take our medicine later. Once the economy gets going it becomes harder, not easier to make the case that cuts are necessary to popular programs. Trump did make a promise regarding entitlements but it’s one the country can’t afford to keep indefinitely. Hopefully, Mulvaney and congressional Republicans can convince him some of these items need to be put back on the list.
Here’s a bit of the Mulvaney interview in which he touches on entitlements briefly near the end of this clip.