STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump is the latest of many political candidates who vowed to run the government more like a business. Here is the budget the White House is now proposing. Expenses go way up. Revenue goes way down. Budget deficits climb to levels rarely seen in a time of economic growth. The shortfalls would come even though the White House proposes that the State Department be cut and proposes to restrain spending on Medicare and Medicaid.
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MICK MULVANEY: So this is the question, right? Does it balance? No, it doesn't.
INSKEEP: Presidential budget director Mick Mulvaney spoke with reporters at the White House yesterday.
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MULVANEY: I couldn't come in here and tell you using solid numbers that we can balance in 10 years 'cause we can't. I hope there's some value in being honest with people about what the fiscal situation is.
INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is covering this story. Hi there, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: Are you surprised to hear Mick Mulvaney say they're not even going to try to balance the budget?
KEITH: It's pretty remarkable because Mick Mulvaney, as someone who covered him in Congress, he was a major deficit hawk. I went to a town hall he did where he had a PowerPoint presentation where he talked a lot about the deficit. And then yesterday, a reporter at a briefing asked him, sir, as a one-time deficit hawk - and he jumped in, and he's like, no, no, no. Still-time deficit hawk.
KEITH: However, the reality is that they are presenting a budget that has very large, like, trillion-dollar deficits and does not balance over the next 10 years.
INSKEEP: Let's put right on the table something that some Democrats have said and that also some Republicans have said, that there were a lot of Republicans who really cared about budget deficits so long as Barack Obama was president.
KEITH: Yes. And Mick Mulvaney's response to that was, we still care - honest - we still care. But he is no longer in Congress. He's now on the executive branch side of things. He says he was talking about deficits last year and said, if we don't make changes, if we don't do some big structural things then we're going to have deficits as far as the eye can see. And he said Congress sort of looked at their budget and said, meh, and didn't make those big structural changes that he was calling for.
INSKEEP: OK. So let's figure out if there is some larger strategy here, which it is widely felt in some circles that there is. First, Republicans would pass a big tax cut. The deficit gets much larger. And then you say, wow, we need to cut government. I mean, that's the fear, the conspiracy theory. But I think you're telling me that the White House is not even interested in the cutting government part, for the most part.
KEITH: Well, he's still asking for cuts to government, and his message to Congress was, you don't have to spend all this money, and if you don't want to spend it all, we have ideas of things that you could cut.
KEITH: However, the reality that he talks about and the reality that exists is that Republicans control the House but they don't control the Senate entirely because it takes 60 votes to pass a spending bill.
INSKEEP: Very briefly, does Congress care what the president puts in a budget proposal at this point?
KEITH: Here's how I like to think of this. It's like the advice that your parents give you about how to live your life. You say, thanks.
KEITH: And that's exactly what Republicans in Congress said yesterday - we'll take this on advisement, and we're going to work on what's best for our constituents.
INSKEEP: Tam, let me say thanks.
KEITH: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.