WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2017 - Rep. John Michael (Mick) Mulvaney, R-S.C., President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for director of the Office of Management and Budget, brings a determination to cut federal spending that rivals one of his most notable predecessors, David Stockman – with one key exception.
Like Stockman, whose controversial tenure lasted through the first term of the late President Ronald Reagan, the Tea Party favorite Mulvaney has a record of attempting to slash food assistance spending and disdain for federal regulations. However, he differs by showing support for popular agricultural commodity programs such as those Stockman hoped to curtail.
According to contemporaneous reports and his own memoir, Stockman was rebuffed in attempts to sharply reduce the Food for Peace program in early 1981 and block supply control efforts of fruit and vegetable marketing orders in the summer of 1982. He also lost a high-visibility battle in late 1983 to persuade Reagan to veto the dairy diversion program that he called “a $2 billion ripoff.”
In each case, farm-state political clout prevailed over Stockman’s budget-trimming initiatives. A contemporary USDA official who worked with him recalled “his aggressive approach to cutting spending for almost everything” but added that, ultimately, “they didn't really get much done and the Reagan budgets and deficits were, generally, not a pretty picture.”
In his 1986 memoir, “The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed,” Stockman describes a pattern of interest-group political influence that could help Trump and Mulvaney avoid the tripwires in negotiating Washington. In each of his three failures to cut deeply into farm spending and regulation, Stockman acknowledges the influence of “Dick Lyng, a California Reaganaut” who was deputy secretary and later would be Secretary of Agriculture.
Initially, Stockman had believed that he could defeat the farm lobby “if he kept the issues separate – attacking each commodity program in turn, and undermining urban support by cutting the food and nutrition programs,” according to an interview with William Greider in The Atlantic in December 1981. “My strategy is to come in with a farm bill that’s unacceptable to the farm guys so that the whole thing begins to splinter,” he said.
Mulvaney appears to have been chosen for reasons not unlike those behind the 1981 Stockman appointment. Trump’s transition announcement praises 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.” It quotes Mulvaney as saying that the Trump administration will “restore budgetary and fiscal sanity back in Washington.”
His most noteworthy effort in the farm and food arena was an unsuccessful effort to cut food stamp spending in half. His amendment to the 2013 farm bill would have capped the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at the 2008 level of $37.6 billion. SNAP spending reached a record $79.9 billion in 2013, since falling to $70.8 billion in 2016.
Mulvaney said that he would “vote for just about anything in the farm bill if we got rid of the nutrition part of it,” according to a BuzzFeed report. “If we broke that unholy alliance between ag and nutrition once and for all, then I could vote for just about every subsidy in the book they could think of if they could make some real structural long-term changes,” he said.
His support for the failed effort to separate SNAP from the farm bill is consistent with the 2016 Republican National Convention platform but goes against the Trump campaign’s position. Sam Clovis, co-chair of the Trump campaign and Trump’s lead adviser on agriculture policy, said that nutrition programs should stay in the farm bill. Reductions in nutrition program costs should come from economic growth that puts people to work, he said.
In 2014, Mulvaney co-sponsored the “SNAP Verify Act” that would have required recipients to show photographic verification when using a SNAP electronic benefit card to buy food.
If Trump needs another candidate for a regulation to eliminate, Mulvaney may have one to offer. He was one of 18 original co-sponsors of legislation in 2014 that would have overturned Food and Drug Administration regulations against the interstate sale of raw milk that has not been pasteurized. FDA and the dairy industry have strong opposition to legalizing the sale of unpasteurized milk, noting that it is responsible for most dairy-related food poisoning.
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