How the GOP Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Spending

Trump wanted to cut $1.7 trillion out of the budget. The House Republicans just countered by cutting nothing. What happened?

By MICHAEL GRUNWALD October 26, 2017

Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director, faced a jarring question Sunday on Face the Nation: Why have Republicans given up trying to rein in spending? The show’s host, John Dickerson, compared it to Weight Watchers giving up on dieting. Mulvaney sort of challenged the premise, but not with excessive vigor.

“Well, you’re not giving up entirely on spending,” Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney was a leading spending hawk in Congress before he joined the administration, and the 2018 Trump budget he unveiled this fall was a remarkably hawkish document, calling for drastic rollbacks of spending in almost every nonmilitary area of government. But the Republican-controlled Congress mostly ignored it, and these days the party’s top priority is clearly tax cuts, with spending cuts relegated to maybe-down-the-road.

The Republican budget resolution that passed Congress on Thursday required no mandatory cuts whatsoever, even though it paved the way for tax cuts that would boost federal deficits by $1.5 trillion.

That’s a stark contrast with Trump’s limited-government budget plan, which would have slashed $1.7 trillion out of so-called “mandatory spending” like Medicaid, disability insurance and food stamps over a decade. In fact the spending trajectory of the federal government has barely changed since Trump took office, except for some increased spending on defense and disaster relief, and significant change does not seem imminent. As Mulvaney told Dickerson: “There just isn’t the political will on the Hill right now.”

That’s putting it mildly. Congressional Republicans have ignored Trump’s proposals for severe cuts to “discretionary spending” like the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Institutes of Health. They still talk about reining in Big Government and taming the national debt, but so far their governing philosophy looks more like don’t-tax-and-spend economics.