Mick Mulvaney, Donald Trump’s far-right budget director, has developed a reputation over the years as an ardent deficit hawk. Six years ago, for example, during the debt-ceiling crisis he helped create, Mulvaney said he’d rather see the United States default on its debts than pass a clean debt-ceiling hike. As the South Carolina Republican put it at the time, we “desperately need … structural change that stops Congress from continuing to spend a bunch of money we don’t have.”
More recently, he told Politico that he got involved in politics in part because he disapproved of the Bush/Cheney administration’s big budget deficits.
And yet, as Mulvaney and his Republican brethren push massive tax cuts, he’s apparently decided to abandon one of his core principles.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is signaling similar flexibility, saying on CNN Sunday that decisions about deductions remain up in the air as “the bill is not finished yet.” He took it a step further on Fox News Sunday, by adding that a tax plan that doesn’t add to the deficit won’t spur growth.
“I’ve been very candid about this. We need to have new deficits because of that. We need to have the growth,” Mulvaney said. “If we simply look at this as being deficit-neutral, you’re never going to get the type of tax reform and tax reductions that you need to get to sustain 3 percent economic growth.”
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), summarizing the perspective of many in his party, recently said in reference to deficit reduction, “It’s a great talking point when you have an administration that’s Democrat-led. It’s a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration.”
He clearly wasn’t kidding.
But as brazen as Mulvaney’s 180-degree turn is on one of the core principles of his entire governing philosophy, I come not to criticize the far-right OMB director, but to thank him.
In recent years, Mulvaney and others from the Republican’s “Tea Party” wing – is that still a thing? – said their main focus was on balancing the budget and eliminating the deficit. It was the issue that helped drive their entire “movement,” and it became the knee-jerk rationale to oppose every progressive proposal, regardless of popularity or merit, that came from the Obama White House and/or congressional Democrats.
The deficit, they said, was a threat to the nation’s stability. To add to the national debt, they said, was to maliciously punish our children and grandchildren, dooming them with a burden they’ll never escape.
And yet, we now have Mick Mulvaney declaring that the United States actually “needs to have new deficits” as a way of spurring economic growth.
That’s fantastic news. Congratulations, America, we’re all Keynesians now.
The beauty of Mulvaney’s outrageous flip-flop is that it can and should change the nature of the conversation. Instead of debating whether to borrow to boost the economy, we can debate how best to invest the available resources.
In other words, let’s have an argument about whether to increase the deficit through inefficient means (giving rich people tax breaks they don’t need) or increase the deficit through more effective means (investing in infrastructure, boosting food stamps and unemployment benefits, etc.).
Mulvaney may not like where the debate ends up, but so long as we “need to have new deficits,” it’s a discussion that’s bound to be less mind-numbing than the one he was eager to have a few years ago.