December is usually when work on the federal budget policy shifts into high gear, with Congress working full time to finish up 12 annual spending bills to cover the government, and with the White House working on the voluminous new budget it will send to Capitol Hill the next winter.
This year is no exception, with Republican leaders struggling to negotiate what could be a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending package to close out this year’s appropriations process and clear the decks for next year. Meanwhile, the federal agencies are currently in the process of appealing White House decisions about their next-year budgets.
With both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue focused on federal spending at year’s end, long-time budget experts said it is curious that President Donald Trump’s budget director is actually cutting back his time as director the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Mick Mulvaney recently announced that he will keep his OMB job but at the same time be acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As Mulvaney described it, he plans to work two days a week at OMB and the balance of the week at the CFPB.
But Mulvaney’s move to head the CFPB landed him in immediate controversy, with Leandra English, an Obama administration holdover, also claiming the right to lead the agency.
Mulvaney’s two high-level gigs left some speculating that the end result will be low involvement in the appropriations end game and the preparation of next year’s budget.
“By his own admission, Mulvaney says he will do it only two days a week,” said Jim Dyer, a principal at the Podesta Group who previously served as the Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee and also worked in the White House legislative affairs office. “How does that work? This is the time of the year for agency budget appeals and the White House has to finalize decisions by mid-December. Then they have to get the budget printed and have it ready to send to Congress in February.”
Stan Collender of Qorvis MSLGROUP said Mulvaney’s move couldn’t happen at a worse time. A continuing resolution funding the government expires Dec. 8, and Congress has yet to settle on a plan to extend funding. If lawmakers stumble and can’t pass a new stopgap, Trump and Mulvaney will be facing a government shutdown.
Collender, a former top congressional budget aide, said Mulvaney also should be deeply involved in the decisions about next year’s budget.
“Probably the budget preparations for 2019 are way behind schedule and it probably also means the 2019 budget which is due by the first Monday in February is likely to be late,” Collender said. “We might not see that until late March.”
One thing’s for certain: The bench that Mulvaney might rely on at OMB isn’t that deep. Senators of both parties currently are blocking the nomination of Russ Vought to serve as deputy director in order to pressure the White House to support their effort to get more disaster monies in the same year-end spending negotiation. Meanwhile, senators still haven’t advanced the nomination of Margaret Weichert as Trump’s nominee to serve as deputy director for management at OMB out of committee.
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