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The Mulvaney Doctrine: Sacrifice Only the Most Vulnerable on the Altar of Deficit Reduction

White House Budget Director and Former Congressman Is a Deficit Hawk for the Poor, Sick, Homeless and Hungry, But a Dove for the Wealthy and Corporations

WASHINGTON - Mick Mulvaney, White House budget director, is guilty of hypocrisy on federal deficits and debt to advance a corporate agenda, according to a new report (PDF) from Public Citizen.

A detailed look at Mulvaney’s time in Congress and a review of his first 100 days as director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget shows that his concern over deficits applies only to spending on programs for the poor and disadvantaged, but not the wishes of the wealthy and corporations. The report shows that in some cases, particularly where disaster relief and defense spending are concerned, Mulvaney is guilty of obvious hypocrisy and outright reversals.

“The message from Mulvaney is clear: Deficits and debt don’t matter when it comes to policies that benefit the wealthy and large corporations,” said Michael Tanglis, senior researcher for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report. “Policies that benefit the most vulnerable among us – the old, the sick, the hungry – on the other hand, not only can’t add to the debt, but also must be cut in the name of reducing it. This is the Mulvaney Doctrine.”

As a three-term member of Congress, Mulvaney was highly selective about who and what should be sacrificed on the altar of deficit reduction.

  • Mulvaney displayed blatant hypocrisy on disaster relief. In 2013, he opposed a Hurricane Sandy relief bill because “it is not paid for.” But when historic flooding struck his home state of South Carolina in 2015, Mulvaney changed his tune regarding paying for disaster relief up front. “There will be a time for a discussion about aid and how to pay for it, but that time is not now,” Mulvaney said.
  • In the 112th Congress, even after campaigning against earmarks and wasteful spending, Mulvaney was a frequent proponent of Miscellaneous Tariff Bills (MTBs), earmarks that benefit individual companies. The tariff reductions would have cost taxpayers millions if implemented.
  • Mulvaney sponsored legislation, backed by Wall Street, that would have added hundreds of millions to the deficit if implemented, according to Congressional Budget Office cost estimates. The security and investment industry was one of the top contributors to Mulvaney over his legislative career.


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Now, as White House budget director, Mulvaney has taken positions he harshly criticized as a member of Congress.

  • In 2013, Mulvaney claimed it was hypocritical for Republicans to advocate for large cuts in funding for federal agencies while excluding the U.S. Department of Defense. “It undermines Republicans’ credibility on spending issues,” Mulvaney reportedly said, if “we’re not willing to also look at the defense budget for possible savings.” But the 2018 budget Mulvaney’s office released on May 23 calls for an increase in defense spending while making deep cuts at other federal agencies.
  • In 2013, due to the “ballooning deficit,” Mulvaney said that spending $17 billion on Hurricane Sandy relief without offsetting discretionary spending cuts was wrong. But this year, after the Trump administration proposed trillions in deficit-funded tax cuts, Mulvaney explained that deficits “are not driving the discussion.”
  • In 2012, Mulvaney promised to “eliminate Washington accounting gimmicks,” but his 2018 budget proposal includes an egregious accounting gimmick. The administration claims to achieve a balanced budget in 10 years by assuming $2.1 trillion in extra tax revenue from “economic feedback,” apparently reflecting hypothetical benefits from anticipated tax cuts. Making matters worse, the administration uses this same $2.1 trillion in added revenue twice, claiming that it will not only balance the budget but also cover the cost of future tax cuts – a classic case of double counting.

“Mulvaney appears to have found a magic asterisk so nice that he used it twice. Even veteran practitioners of Washington accounting gimmicks would consider that a bridge too far,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Apparently, not even the fundamentals of basic economic theory are safe from Mulvaney’s zeal to aggrandize the wealthy at the expense of the poor.”

Read the report, which is the third in a series of reports on Mulvaney.


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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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