Skip to content

Trump Nominates Anti-Deficit Crusader Mulvaney to Head OMB

South Carolina Republican expressed interest in position before election

South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for director of the Office of Management and Budget, where he would play a central role in complex major health care and tax changes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for director of the Office of Management and Budget, where he would play a central role in complex major health care and tax changes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President-elect Donald Trump announced Saturday the nomination of South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, an opponent of government spending who rode the 2010 tea party wave to Congress, for director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The three-term Republican congressman, a founding member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, met with Trump in New York earlier this month. He first tipped his hand publicly in a Facebook post on Oct. 19, when a follower asked Mulvaney his preferred position in a potential Trump administration.

“I would love to be the director of OMB,” Mulvaney wrote. “That is where I think REAL improvements could be made in how the government is run.”

Trump’s transition team touted Mulvaney’s “strong voice in Congress for reining in out-of-control spending, fighting government waste and enacting tax policies that will allow working Americans to thrive,” in its announcement on Saturday.

“We are going to do great things for the American people with Mick Mulvaney leading the Office of Management and Budget,” Trump was quoted in the announcement. “Right now we are nearly $20 trillion in debt, but Mick is a very high-energy leader with deep convictions for how to responsibly manage our nation’s finances and save our country from drowning in red ink.”

Mulvaney said in the announcement that the Trump administration will “restore budgetary and fiscal sanity back in Washington.”

“Each day, families across our nation make disciplined choices about how to spend their hard earned money, and the federal government should exercise the same discretion that hardworking Americans do every day,” he said.

Mulvaney would likely bring major change to an office that is the hub of a sprawling federal bureaucracy.

The position is usually filled by old hands with deep knowledge of the federal budget as well as managerial experience, an uncommon combination. Those qualifications will be critically important under Trump, a newcomer to Washington, and with a 2017 agenda packed with fiscal action largely under OMB’s purview.

If confirmed, Mulvaney would play a central role in complex major health care and tax changes, as Republicans in Congress plan to use a budgetary maneuver known as reconciliation to avoid procedural hurdles.

He would also be in the middle of a new debt ceiling increase or suspension, the rolling back of budgetary limits on defense spending, the expected slashing of federal regulations, a push for massive infrastructure spending and much more.

‘Cut, Cap and Balance’

Mulvaney doesn’t have extensive budget experience, but he isn’t new to some of the issues he would oversee at the OMB, namely government spending and regulations.

He helped assemble the deficit reduction plan in 2011 known as “Cut, Cap and Balance,” that was supported by most conservative Republicans, but was never enacted. He has frequently cited the national debt as the greatest challenge facing the country and has criticized what he sees as overreach by the EPA and other federal rule-makers.

The promise of managing government-wide efforts to cut red tape makes the OMB director post an attractive assignment for the crusading conservative from Indian Land, South Carolina.

The spending side of the job could be more of a challenge for Mulvaney. Trump has promised to tackle the rising national debt, but he’s offered no substantive plan for doing so. Nonpartisan analyses of Trump’s policy proposals during the campaign found that those plans would significantly drive up annual deficits and the debt.

Mulvaney, who will likely be under pressure from Republicans to produce a balanced budget, may find that his own hard-line stance on the deficit puts him in conflict with his boss at times.

Fiscal purist

In Congress, the South Carolinian split with many Republicans on defense spending. When GOP defense hawks supported the use of uncapped war funds to supplement the military’s base budget, Mulvaney joined Democrats and other conservative fiscal purists to oppose the budgetary gimmick.

He has called for eliminating the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations account that he says is a “slush fund” for the Pentagon.

It’s unclear how his views on the subject align with those of Trump, who has simultaneously decried wasteful Pentagon spending and called for a repeal of discretionary defense spending caps, put in place in a 2011 budget law, in order to further build up the U.S. military.

Trump’s infrastructure plans, depending on the price tag and offsets, could run into resistance from Mulvaney’s Freedom Caucus colleagues and other anti-spending conservatives. So could a push to raise the debt limit, which is suspended through March 15, 2017, unless that increase is paired with deficit-cutting measures.

Management experience

While the OMB is largely known for its budget work, former directors say management skills are equally critical.

“The president should make the OMB director his chief instrument for having a management agenda,” said Alice M. Rivlin, the OMB chief under President Bill Clinton, at an event in October hosted by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.

Former Rep. Jim Nussle of Iowa, a onetime House Budget chairman and OMB director under President George W. Bush, said the position is a unique combination of staffer and manager, similar in a way to the White House chief of staff.

Mulvaney, a father of triplets, has managerial experience dating back to his days as the owner and operator of an outlet of the Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina chain of restaurants.

He’s a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly 40 rebellious Republicans that left an outsized mark on the 114th Congress — most notably by spurring the resignation of Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio.

Mulvaney is a regular spokesman for the Freedom Caucus, and is more adept than most members at articulating its positions and ideas.

The group’s dramatic clashes with Republican leaders in Congress may not portend a smooth relationship between Mulvaney as OMB director and the GOP-controlled House and Senate.

On the other hand, his frequent criticism of GOP leaders puts Mulvaney in tune with his potential future boss. During the presidential campaign, Trump reveled in disparaging Democratic and Republican politicians alike, including current House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.

Besides their irreverence for the GOP establishment, Mulvaney and Trump share an affinity for the president-elect’s favorite sport: golf. Mulvaney played at Charlotte Catholic High School in North Carolina and has said the golf course is a favorite spot for him to get away from politics.

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

Recent Stories

House bill gives up to a year to sell TikTok; eyes Russian assets

We all became Bob Graham

On Senate floor, Mayorkas impeachment sparks procedural clash

Senate dispenses with Mayorkas impeachment without a trial

Steve Garvey: Not the next Jim Bunning

Capitol Lens | Former Sen. Bob Graham, 1936–2024