U.S.

Citing Big Bird, Trump Budget Director Defends PBS Cuts

It was not an easy morning for Mick Mulvaney, the former tea party congressman turned budget director who returned to the House of Representatives on Wednesday to defend the president’s $4.1 trillion fiscal program. 

The Trump budget, which would slash support for public broadcasting, left Mulvaney defending himself. “Big Bird makes more money than everyone in this room,” he told legislators upset about planned cuts to PBS, along with programs for the poor, foreign aid, scientific research and even infrastructure—which the president had vowed to promote. As part of his riff that the goal of the budget was to help taxpayers, feathered and otherwise, he said: “We’re giving Big Bird a tax cut.” 

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The Trump budget wouldn’t affect payments directly to Sesame Street Workshop, Big BIrd’s creators, but it would mean the Corporation for Public Broadcasting couldn’t help local public television stations purchase and broadcast Sesame Street. PBS, the network of public broadcast stations, says some affiliates me not be able to stay on the air. 

Democrats were united in their opposition to the plan, which would make steep cuts in entitlement programs despite Donald Trump’s repeated pledges during the 2016 campaign that he’d protect these programs. Some Republicans took shots at the plan, too. 

The most withering criticism came from Representative Mark Sanford, who served in the South Carolina delegation with Mulvaney but rejected the plan’s rosy economic scenarios. "This budget presumes a Goldilocks economy," Sanford said. "It assumes that the stars perfectly align with regard to economic drivers. Can you guess the last time we had an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, growth of 3 percent and inflation held at 2 percent?” Sanford informed Mulvaney that it had never happened. He said of 3 percent growth: “It’s frankly not only a myth. It’s a lie.” 

Sanford also noted that the economy has been growing for 94 months, the third longest expansion in post-World War II history, and that the Trump budget assumes no recessions in the next 10 years. 

Democrats took aim at the budget’s deep cuts in health care, education and foreign assistance including the Food for Peace program that was enacted under President Dwight Eisenhower. Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington called the budget’s cuts “immoral.” During the campaign, Trump vowed to defend Medicaid from any cuts, but his budget adds additional cuts to those in the Republican repeal of Obamacare that passed the House this spring. It also includes over $700 billion in cuts to the Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program. The program offers aid to those who are disabled, blind or over 65. It’s also available to disabled and blind children. Unlike standard Social Security, it’s funded out of general revenues and not the FICA tax, which opened it up to the administration’s search for budget savings. 

Other Trump administration officials fanned out on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to defend the president’s budget, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. They apparently have a lot of people to convince.