Social Security and Medicare reformer Mick Mulvaney assumes powerful position at White House

New Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

It’s unfortunate that in a desperate attempt to fill the White House chief of staff position vacated by General John Kelly, President Trump turned to an avowed ‘entitlement reformer.’  The new acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, is an outspoken fiscal hawk committed to cutting Social Security and Medicare.  This should be of concern to seniors and their advocates.

Vox called the former South Carolina Congressman, current director of the Office of Management and Budget, and temporary head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “a very ideologically orthodox conservative who hates the idea of spending money on domestic social assistance programs.”

As budget director, Mulvaney pressured the president to cut Social Security and Medicare – despite Trump’s campaign promise “not to touch” either program.  In fact, the budgets Mulvaney submitted to Congress on behalf of the Trump administration called for some $500 billion in cuts to Medicare and $64 billion to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

According to news reports, Mulvaney convinced the President to accept the cuts to SSDI by telling him that the federal disability program was “welfare.”  The president reportedly responded, “OK.  We can fix welfare.”

In 2017, Mulvaney told the moderator of CBS Face the Nation that SSDI is not really Social Security:

“Let me ask you a question, do you really think that Social Security Disability Insurance is part of what people think of when they think of Social Security?  I don’t think so… It’s a very wasteful program and we want to try and fix that.” – Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney, CBS Face the Nation, 3/19/17

That same month, Mulvaney boasted that he had begun preaching the gospel of “entitlement reform” to the White House:

“I’ve already started to socialize the discussion around here in the West Wing about how important the mandatory spending is to the drivers of our debt.  I think people are starting to grab it.”  – Mick Mulvaney on Hugh Hewitt radio program, March, 2017 

Never mind that tax expenditures (including the Trump/GOP tax scam) are the biggest drivers of the debt, not Social Security and Medicare Part A, which are fully self-funded.

When challenged to explain how his position was consistent with President Trump’s campaign vows, Mulvaney fudged. He suggested that Trump’s promise to protect Social Security and Medicare can be interpreted to allow any measure that helps both programs meet their obligations — “even and especially if those obligations are reduced.”  According to Mulvaney’s contorted logic, we must cut Social Security and Medicare in order to save them.

The new acting chief of staff’s enmity for programs that help seniors extends beyond Social Security and Medicare.  The budgets Mulvaney authored would have reduced federal home heating assistance and grants that support Meals on Wheels for needy seniors.

Trump administration budgets under Mick Mulvaney would have cut grants for Meals on Wheels

Trump administration budgets under Mick Mulvaney would have cut grants for Meals on Wheels

“Meals on Wheels sounds great,” said Mulvaney during a 2017 press conference, “[But] we’re not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”  The millions of seniors who receive hot meals every day from Meals on Wheels might disagree that the program doesn’t deliver on its promises.

Mulvaney’s fox-in-the-henhouse tenure as head of Trump’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) cemented the perception that he is no champion of retirees or working people. Vox reported that “Mulvaney’s CFPB pulled back on its investigation of the data breach at Equifax, which exposed the personal information of 145.5 million U.S. consumers to hackers.”  Meanwhile, according to the New York Times:

“Mr. Mulvaney…has dropped several of the agency’s lawsuits against predatory payday lenders and has taken a softer stance toward the industry than his predecessor did.” – New York Times, 6/05/18

This is not the man that seniors want whispering in the President’s ear.  Given that President Trump tends to act on the last thing he’s heard, Mulvaney’s repeated entreaties may be more effective than when he was budget director.  The good news is that Mulvaney is reportedly the one who insisted his title be ‘Acting’ Chief of Staff – and that he doesn’t intend to fill the role for more than six months.  For the sake of older Americans, let’s hope that’s accurate.