Budget nominee Mulvaney takes heat over cost-cutting, $15K in back taxes

Mulvaney said he is in the process of paying more than $15,000 back to the IRS.
By Doug G. Ware and Ed Adamczyk  |  Updated Jan. 24, 2017 at 7:16 PM
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Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The man chosen by President Donald Trump to lead the government's main budget office faced intense criticism from Senate Democrats on Tuesday, over a nearly 20-year-old issue that has him owing $15,000 in back taxes to the IRS.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., faced questions about the past discrepancy, as well as a spate of other issues Tuesday -- during two confirmation hearings by two Senate committees.

The tax issue arose at the first hearing before the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday morning. It stems from a babysitter he and his wife hired in 2000 to care for newborn triplets. He failed to pay federal taxes totaling $15,583 for the nanny, he said, because at the time he did not view her as a household employee.

"In our minds, she was a babysitter. She did not live with us. She did not spend the night there," he said.

Mulvaney said he is in the process of paying that amount back to the IRS.

Senate Democrats, though, have seized on the mistake as a deal-breaker for his confirmation -- saying that very problem has killed similar nominations for Democrats in the past.

"When other previous cabinet nominees failed to pay their fair share in taxes, Senate Republicans forced those nominees to withdraw from consideration," Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said. "If failure to pay taxes was disqualifying for Democratic nominees, then the same should be true for Republican nominees."

GOP senators, however, have not yet pulled any support for Mulvaney's appointment -- meaning they can still approve the congressman's nomination, even with Democrats' disapproval.

Later on Tuesday afternoon, Mulvaney answered questions from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during the second hearing.

There, he faced tough questioning from Democrats over his prior support for reforming Social Security and Medicare -- entitlement programs that Trump has promised to leave alone.

"The only thing I know how to do is to tell the president the truth," Mulvaney said, answering a question about whether he would tell the president to keep his promises.

At the first hearing, Mulvaney expressed a willingness to go against Trump on entitlement programs if economic circumstances call for it.

"Fundamental changes are necessary in the way Washington spends and taxes, if we truly want a healthy economy," he told the budget committee. "This must include changing our government's long-term fiscal path, which is unsustainable."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., went after Mulvaney for previous votes he cast in the House to cut defense spending and withdraw troops from Afghanistan -- votes that the nominee said he couldn't entirely recall.

"I think I would remember if I was withdrawing troops from Europe," McCain answered, also adding that he was "deeply concerned" about Mulvaney directing the Office of Management and Budget.

Mulvaney's fellow South Carolina lawmaker, Sen. Lindsay Graham, favored his confirmation Tuesday, saying he "has made it his life's work to understand what is wrong with our government, and is dedicated to fixing it."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., also expressed concern that the potential budget director was being pushed through the confirmation process too quickly. So quickly, she said, that the FBI hasn't even finished Mulvaney's background check yet.

While the hearing continued, the panel agreed Tuesday that it would not vote on his nomination until the FBI submits its conclusion.

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