Mick Mulvaney tries to sell Trump’s draconian budget cuts as an act of “compassion” for the rich — and even Republicans don’t buy it

Trump’s budget director says the White House's budget proposal will help people “take charge of their own lives"

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published May 23, 2017 7:18PM (EDT)

Mick Mulvaney (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Mick Mulvaney (AP/Andrew Harnik)

The White House delivered President Donald Trump's first full budget to Congress on Tuesday, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Mick Mulvaney promptly tried to spin $4.1 trillion in proposed cuts to social services as an act of “compassion” for wealthy taxpayers. Yet Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman, apparently has little sway over his old Republican colleagues in the Senate, as many of them came out swinging against Trump’s budget proposal only hours later.

“Terrible,” is how Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham described Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget to reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. The sales pitch Mulvaney provided at a White House press briefing earlier evidently did little to impress his fellow South Carolina Republican, as Graham went on to blast Trump’s proposed 29 percent decrease in funding to the State Department and USAID as “a lot of Benghazis in the making if we actually implemented the State Department cuts.” When Mulvaney first floated the idea of such cuts in March, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a budget that slashes State Department funds by one-third is unlikely to pass in his chamber.

At the White House on Tuesday, Mulvaney continued to push Trump’s proposal by asking lawmakers to look “at the budget through the eyes of the taxpayer” instead of those who receive benefits from federal programs. The $4.1 trillion in cuts disproportionately impact Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. However, it would not be compassionate to ask working families to pay the taxes to fund those expenditures, Mulvaney argued.

"We're no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs," Mulvaney said on Tuesday. "We're not going to measure compassion by the amount of money that we spend, but by the number of people that we help."

Defending $190 billion in cuts to food stamps and $72 billion from Social Security disability payments — an apparent violation of Trump’s campaign promise to not touch Social Security — Mulvaney argued: "That is how you can help people take charge of their own lives again."

“If I can look you in the eye and say I’m going to take this money from you so I can help this injured vet, I can do that in good conscience,” he said. “I am a lot less comfortable to the point of not wanting to look you in the eye and say, ‘Look, I need to take this money from you to give to this person over here who really isn’t disabled but is getting a disabled benefit or this person over here who is supposed to use the money to go to school but isn’t actually going.”

Talk of which disabled Americans are deserving, however, didn’t go far to sell a number of Republicans in Congress.

Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller blasted Trump’s budget proposal as “anti-Nevada,” citing its drastic cuts to Medicaid and important public lands programs in the state.  As The Hill reported, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also said he continues "to oppose this budget’s proposed elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative."

That Mulvaney’s spin to sell draconian cuts to lifeline services for millions of vulnerable Americans in favor of “compassion” for wealthy taxpayers fell flat even with Republicans on the Hill is a sure sign that Trump's budget blueprint will largely be ignored by the GOP-controlled Congress. After all, compassionate conservatism fell out of favor with Republicans after George W. Bush’s ran up a massive deficit while in office. The White House may have a better chance sticking to Trump’s more traditional sales pitch for “the biggest tax cut in history."

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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