- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2017

President Trump’s pick to be White House budget director ran into a bipartisan buzz saw on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with Democrats blasting Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s support for raising the Social Security retirement age and Republicans fretting that the South Carolinian would decimate the military — both reactions serving as early indicators of the difficulties Mr. Trump faces in putting together his first national budget.

The Congressional Budget Office kicked off the debate with a dire warning over the state of government finances, saying a sluggish economy and rising interest rates would spawn $10 trillion in additional debt over the next decade.

Democrats on Capitol Hill responded with a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that they said would pour money into the economy, though the spending likely would be tacked onto the deficit.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Congress will do something on infrastructure, though he added that the size of the plans will depend on how much space Republicans can carve out in their budget.

That budget, which Mr. Trump is expected to submit and House and Senate Republicans will retool, will set priorities for the next four years — if Republicans can even pass it.

An internal feud between defense hawks and fiscal hawks has hamstrung the party for years, and the fight spilled over into the confirmation hearing Tuesday for Mr. Mulvaney.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, blasted his Republican colleague for saying Defense Department could withstand cuts.

“You’ve spent your entire congressional career pitting the debt against our military, and at least for you the debt was more important,” Mr. McCain said. “All I can say to you, sir, is that I’m deeply concerned about your lack of support for our military.”

He also accused Mr. Mulvaney of pushing for a government shutdown in 2013, when House Republicans and Senate Democrats deadlocked on spending bills, leaving the government without money to operate at full speed for the first half of October.

Mr. Mulvaney said he didn’t want a shutdown but was voting for stricter spending limits.

Democrats, meanwhile, said Mr. Mulvaney would walk back Mr. Trump’s repeated campaign promises to protect Social Security and Medicare benefits. They pointed to Mr. Mulvaney’s support for hiking the eligibility age for Social Security and means-testing to determine who qualifies for Medicare.

“I think folks on Social Security and Medicare ought to be really worried,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, told the congressman. “It just demonstrates the difference between what President Trump has indicated he would do and what in fact you would be advising him.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called on Mr. Trump to withdraw Mr. Mulvaney’s nomination over his support for raising the retirement age on Social Security.

Mr. Mulvaney, though, said neither program will be able to pay out its benefits within a couple of decades if no changes are made.

“The real risk we run is doing nothing,” Mr. Mulvaney said.

He said his job was to offer options and advice to Mr. Trump but that he would follow the president’s lead when it came to final policy decisions.

If confirmed as budget director, he will oversee the first Trump spending blueprint. During the campaign, Mr. Trump made a host of extravagant and conflicting promises, calling for major defense spending hikes, his own massive infrastructure program and deep tax cuts.

All of those would dig an even deeper hole into a federal budget that has yet to recover from the recession a decade ago.

The CBO, in its latest update Tuesday, said the government will run a half-trillion-dollar deficit this year and rise to $1.4 trillion a year within a decade.

Unless something changes, within three decades, the debt will be double what it is now, when measured against the size of the economy — a level never seen in U.S. history, the CBO said.

CBO Director Keith Hall said there aren’t any easy fixes.

“The sort of changes we’d need to really change our future 20 or 30 years down the road are pretty significant. Whether it’s discretionary spending, whether it’s taxes, whether it’s mandatory spending, pretty significant things need to be done, and the sooner we start on that, the better,” he said.

The CBO said the economy is “on solid ground” right now and should grow at a rate of 2.3 percent this year. But real growth as measured by gross domestic product dips to 2 percent next year and to just 1.5 percent in 2020, when the next presidential election is scheduled.

By the end of the decade, the CBO says, growth will average just 1.9 percent a year.

Mr. Trump has said that number should average 4 percent a year during his administration, boosted by his tax cuts and his infrastructure plan.

Democrats on Tuesday said they were trying to blaze a path for Mr. Trump on infrastructure,

Mr. Schumer announced a $1 trillion plan with money divided among roads and bridges, water and sewer projects, mass transit, school construction and energy infrastructure. They said that much spending could support 15 million jobs.

“We’re challenging President Trump to support our plan,” he said. “He campaigned on promise of bigger and better infrastructure. This plan is a way to make it happen.”

Mr. Schumer, though, ruled out the use of tax credits to support infrastructure and said Democrats won’t support cuts to basic government programs to pay for the spending. He said Democrats would prefer to tack it onto the deficit and call it a stimulus.

Mr. Ryan, though, ruled that out.

“The size of the package will be determined by the fiscal space we create in our spring budget,” he said.

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