Mulvaney got even rougher with the caucus after leadership axed the vote. On NBC’s Meet The Press Sunday, Chuck Todd grilled the budget chief about why he had been unable to get Freedom Caucusers to “yes.” Mulvaney rambled on about how Washington is more “broken” and “rotten” than even he had imagined. “I know the Freedom Caucus. I helped found it. I never thought it would come to this,” he lamented. He characterized the AHCA’s demise as another sad case of “the powers that be in Washington” crushing action-oriented reformers. Rejecting Todd’s suggestion that the bill was fatally flawed, Mulvaney trashed opponents’ motives. “They're still paying attention to special interests, they're still paying attention to getting reelected, as opposed to doing the right thing.”
Say this for the budget chief: It took impressive shamelessness to throw this kind of shade at former colleagues, seeing as how Mulvaney spent his own House career perfecting exactly the sort of intransigence, disruption, and ideological piety he’s now grumping about. When it came to giving the finger to legislative pragmatism, compromise, and “good enough,” no one beat Congressman Mulvaney.
And now? After less than two months in the executive branch, Mulvaney appears to have had an epiphany about the art of the possible, the limits of ideological purity, and the vast difference between governing and blowing stuff up. At the very least, he’s learned how it feels to carry someone else’s water. For the past couple of weeks, in fact, the one-time bomb-throwing zealot has sounded suspiciously like one of those deal-cutting RINO squishes he used to lived to torment. (Neither he nor members of the Freedom Caucus wished to comment.)
Worse, the health care crackup promises to be only the first of many awkward situations barreling his way. In the coming months, Mulvaney will frequently be headed back to the Hill to discuss delicate issues such as tax reform and “continuing resolutions ” and “skinny budgets” and spending caps. Like many House Republicans, he is a fierce budget hawk—one who repeatedly voiced his preference for shutting down the government in the service of taming spending.
His new boss, by contrast, has bragged about being “the king of debt” and, since taking office, has been floating all sorts of tax cuts and spending plans—including a $1 trillion infrastructure package—that would blow a fat hole in the budget. (It bears mentioning that the continuing resolution, or CR, currently funding the government expires in late April, opening the door for potentially spicy funding squabbles.)
Aspects of tax reform that interest Trump, such as some version of a border tax, do not sit well with many fiscally conservative lawmakers. Nothing in the president’s skinny budget would significantly shrink deficits. (He is looking to jack up Pentagon spending by $54 billion, requiring commensurate slashing of non-defense spending just to break even.) Dramatically complicating the math, Trump has vowed not to touch entitlements, the overhaul of which Mulvaney and many of his former colleagues see as necessary to the nation’s fiscal health.