Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, faced senators’ questions about the national debt, unpaid taxes and his past votes on military funding.
Mulvaney appeared at confirmation hearings Jan. 24 before the Senate Budget Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which also has jurisdiction over the nomination (more confirmation action below).
Mulvaney is a long-time member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of libertarian and conservative House Republicans who advocate for less spending and smaller government. His selection was hailed by anti-spending advocates as a solid choice to boost Trump’s budget credentials after a campaign in which Trump said he would not cut back on Social Security and Medicare.
The sharpest questioning came at the Homeland Security hearing—from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain asked Mulvaney why he had voted against money for overseas military operations, and in support of troop withdrawals.
“Did you offer an amendment in 2013 to cut the budget by $3.5 billion?” McCain asked.
“That, I don’t remember,” Mulvaney said.
“I would remember if I voted to cut our defense the way that you did, congressman,” McCain said. “Maybe you don’t take it with the seriousness that it deserves.”
Mulvaney said some of his funding votes were likely tied to his opposition to using the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which was meant to segregate war-fighting funds from the Pentagon’s regular budget. Mulvaney said he believes adding more money to the Pentagon budget should be done through normal means without resorting to the OCO fund, which has been tapped often in recent years by lawmakers as OCO funds don’t count against the annual defense funding cap.
McCain did not sound convinced by Mulvaney’s explanation.
“All I can say to you, sir, is that I am deeply concerned about your lack of support for the military [and] about your continued votes for withdrawals from Europe when we see a world on fire,” McCain said.
McCain stopped short of saying he would oppose the nomination, and a spokesman for McCain had nothing to add to the senator’s remarks. With a Homeland Security Committee party split of 8-7, a single Republican defection could stall Mulvaney in the committee if all the Democrats voted against him.
Mulvaney also faced questioning on his past positions on defaulting on the national debt. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said Mulvaney, during an impasse between Congress and the White House over the need to raise the debt limit, had expressed doubt about how much financial system impact a default would have had.
“My interest was in lowering the temperature of the rhetoric,” Mulvaney said. He said the Obama Treasury Department at the time was trying to roil financial markets with the issue.
In his Budget hearing, Mulvaney also sought to downplay the matter.
“Bumping up against the debt ceiling is always an undesirable situation,” Mulvaney said, adding that he would counsel the president on the ramifications of both raising and maintaining the debt ceiling.
Mulvaney was also quizzed about his acknowledged failure to pay federal payroll taxes for a nanny who he said worked 40-hour weeks to help him and his wife care for their triplets through the age of four.
Mulvaney said he considered the employee a babysitter, and did not regard her as a household employee. “I will pay any penalties, any existing late fees, and abide by the law to the best of my ability,” Mulvaney said.
Republican Budget Committee members expressed support for the nomination, and were largely satisfied with Mulvaney’s response to the tax issue.
However, he faced pushback from Democrats on the panel, including Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who said she did not find it credible that Mulvaney didn’t realize he would owe taxes on the nanny.
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