White House Officials Testify on FY19 Budget Proposal

Several Senate and House committees held hearings on President Donald Trump’s proposed FY19 budget, which would dramatically cut HUD and USDA affordable housing programs and other non-defense discretionary programs. Mr. Trump released his proposed budget on February 12, and members of his administration appeared before various committees in the following days to answer questions from members of Congress. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin testified before the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance to discuss the intersections between the budget and new tax law. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney addressed the budget committees in each chamber to discuss details of the president’s budget proposal.

The Senate Committee on the Budget held a hearing on February 13 with Mr. Mulvaney as the sole witness. Republican committee members commended the administration for its proposed spending cuts, which Mr. Mulvaney stated were needed to reduce the deficit, and they praised the administration’s work on the tax reform law, which is projected to increase deficits by more than $1 trillion over 10 years. Democrats criticized the budget cuts and the proposals to eliminate important programs, including those that support affordable housing. In his opening remarks, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asserted that the drastically reduced funding in the president’s proposal would worsen the nation’s affordable housing crisis. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) condemned the budget for cutting rental assistance at a time when homelessness is increasing. Chair Mike Enzi (R-WY) questioned this claim, stating that the effects of the proposed cuts cannot be determined because “nobody’s in charge – nobody’s setting goals, and nobody’s checking to see if they’re being met.” Mr. Mulvaney made several comments about the need for cuts to mandatory spending programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid, and stated that the administration is looking at reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to increase revenues.

Mr. Mulvaney also appeared before the House Budget Committee on February 14. Many committee Republicans voiced concerns that the budget did not balance over ten years and questioned whether the proposal did enough to reduce mandatory spending to decrease the national debt. Several Republicans expressed support for the president’s proposals to implement work requirements and reduced assistance for eligibility-based benefit programs. Representative Glenn Grothman (R-WI) stated that housing assistance programs are “sometimes almost (as) pernicious as SNAP programs,” and that “there’s no question those programs are right now designed to keep the income gap as great as possible.” Democrats expressed strong opposition to the proposed budget. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) said the budget “dismantles basic living standards” and would push more people into poverty. Mr. Mulvaney responded that the “best welfare program is a job” and stated that the new tax cuts would help create greater economic opportunities.