Mick the Knife – MICHAEL GRUNWALD – By MICHAEL GRUNWALD September/October 2017

Meet Mick Mulvaney, who proudly calls himself a “right-wing nutjob” and is quietly—and radically—trying to dismantle the federal bureaucracy.



Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s budget director, walked into the Oval Office in early May on a longshot mission. The slash-government conservative wanted to persuade the president to break one of his most popular campaign promises.

During his populist run for the White House, Trump had vowed to leave Social Security and Medicare alone. But Trump had also vowed to rein in America’s national debt, which Mulvaney didn’t think was possible without reining in the two biggest chunks of the federal budget. So Mick the Knife brought a cut list to his meeting in the Oval.

“Look, this is my idea on how to reform Social Security,” the former South Carolina congressman began.

“No!” the president replied. “I told people we wouldn’t do that. What’s next?”

“Well, here are some Medicare reforms,” Mulvaney said.

“No!” Trump repeated. “I’m not doing that.”

“OK, disability insurance.”

This was a clever twist. Mulvaney was talking about the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which, as its full name indicates, is part of Social Security. But Americans don’t tend to think of it as Social Security, and its 11 million beneficiaries are not the senior citizens who tend to support Trump.

“Tell me about that,” Trump replied.

“It’s welfare,” Mulvaney said.

“OK, we can fix welfare,” Trump declared.

Sure enough, the Trump budget plan that Mulvaney unveiled a few weeks later would cut about $70 billion in disability benefits over a decade, mostly through unspecified efforts to get recipients back to work. That may sound like welfare reform, but the program isn’t welfare for the poor; it’s insurance for workers who pay into Social Security through payroll taxes. The episode suggests Trump was either ignorant enough to get word-gamed into attacking a half-century-old guarantee for the disabled, or cynical enough to ditch his promise to protect spending when it didn’t benefit his base.

The story is also revealing about the source who told it on the record: Mulvaney himself, an ideological bomb-thrower from the congressional fringe who has become an influential player in the Trump administration. Republicans have said for years that government should only take people’s money to provide absolutely vital services, but Mulvaney truly believes it—and as the head of the powerful Office of Management and Budget, he’s got the perfect job to try to act on it. For all the focus on race, the Russia scandal and the president’s latest tweets, this administration’s lasting impact on American lives will likely depend much more on how often Mulvaney can push his conservative ideas into national policy.

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Trump Vowed to “Absolutely Prioritize” Black Colleges. Then Came His Budget. – BRANDON E. PATTERSON JUN. 1, 2017 6:00 AM

Is the White House betraying a promise to HBCUs?

On the morning of February 27, more than 70 presidents of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) stood in a West Wing corridor, waiting to enter the Oval Office. The meeting with President Donald Trump would be historic—the first time that the head of every HBCU in the country had been invited to meet with the president at the White House. Top aides Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Reince Preibus mixed and mingled with the group. According to Morgan State University president David Wilson, who was among those attending, Bannon voiced a promise: “If you give us a plan, we will execute it.” The implication was clear, Wilson says: Tell us what resources HBCUs need and the administration will find a way to pay for them in Trump’s budget.

The Oval Office meeting was one of many conversations and phone calls since Election Day between HCBU presidents, leaders of HBCU advocacy groups, and the Trump White House. Earlier that day, the White House had promoted a newspaper story headlined “President Trump Seeks to Outdo Obama in Backing Black Colleges,” which alluded to a plan for “historic” support for the schools. The next day, Trump signed an executive order that relocated a federal office devoted to helping fund and support black colleges from the Department of Education into the White House.

“We will make HBCUs a priority in the White House,” Trump said at the signing, “an absolute priority.”

“What we see now certainly does not meet my definition of substantial investment.”

But for leaders and advocates of these institutions, the release of Trump’s budgetin late May did nothing of the sort. Not only was there no new funding for HBCUs in the budget, Trump called for slashing millions of dollars from federal programs that also support degree programs at the schools. Trump’s plan appeared to boost Pell grants by extending their use to year-round—but meanwhile called for taking away $5 billion-plus in reserves from the Pell program and cutting at least $1.5 billion from other federal financial aid programs, including work study. Taken together, these cuts would disproportionately affect low-income students at black colleges, and cost the schools millions in revenue.

“The perception that many HBCU presidents were operating under was that the administration was making a commitment to follow up with a substantial investment in the institutions,” Wilson told me recently. “What we see now certainly does not meet my definition of substantial investment.”

“The budget doesn’t match” earlier messaging from the White House, said Walter Kimbrough, the president of Dillard University. “I’ll be interested to see how members of his team will say this undergirds his recent support for HBCUs. At least for Dillard, I can say it’s a loss.”

Advocates were further perplexed by Trump and questioned his commitment when he suggested in a statement in early May that special funding for black colleges could be unconstitutional. (After his comments drew a backlash, Trump expressed his “unwavering support” for HBCUs again in another statement.)

According to HBCU advocates, the Trump administration’s outreach has been spearheaded by senior communications aide Omarosa Manigault and Ja’Ron Smith, who leads urban renewal efforts on Trump’s domestic policy team. Manigualt and Smith, who are Howard University graduates, did not respond to requests for comment.

Early this year, HBCU advocacy groups jointly proposed a plan for federal funding to the Trump administration. They asked that two key Department of Education programs that support HBCUs be funded at $500 million, the maximum level permitted by Congress, and that the Trump administration commit to increasing for HBCUs the percentage of grants and contracts reserved for institutions of higher education in the federal budget. They argued passionately that HBCUs could play a key role in a Trump plan to create new opportunities for African Americans: The schools have an outsize impact, enrolling eight percent of all black college students in America and producing approximately 15 percent of those who earn bachelor’s degrees. (The nation’s approximately 100 HBCUs constitute three percent of the nation’s colleges and universities.) The schools also graduate large numbers of first-generation college students; roughly 70 percent of the more than 290,000 students enrolled at HBCUs are low-income—more than twice the rate for college students nationally. Howard University is especially known for its many graduates who become lawyers, dentists, doctors, and engineers.

Johnny Taylor, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, says the news about Trump’s budget hasn’t been all bad—HBCUs were mostly insulated from a proposed 13 percent across-the-board cut hitting the Department of Education, which supplies the majority of federal funding to HCBUs. Even being able to retain that core funding under Trump “is something that our community should celebrate,” Taylor says.

Making matters worse, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos described HBCUs in a statement as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.”

But Kimbrough sees that as “moving the goal posts,” especially after promise was in the air from the White House. He and Wilson told Mother Jones that the other cuts, including those to financial aid programs, could cost their schools six- or possibly even seven-figure sums in revenue, and would impact hundreds of their schools’ students. “When you take away any money from any of the students that are on Pell Grants or coming from limited resource families, you are putting them closer and closer to going back home,” Wilson said. Even with as little as a few hundred dollars per semester—”those dollars actually mean the world for our students.”

For many HBCU families, “it’s a sacrifice to get students to go to school,” Kimbrough said. So even relatively small cuts in federal aid can be devastating for them. Morgan State already spends around 15 percent of its budget on financial aid—a larger percentage than any other college in Maryland, according to Wilson; the school simply can’t afford to subsidize cuts to government aid for more students.

Even after the first Trump budget proposal in March, skepticism was already stirring about the promises from the Trump White House. “This budget proposal is not a new deal for African Americans,” Congressional Black Caucus chairman and Morehouse College alumnus Cedric Richmond said, speaking broadly of Trump’s first budget proposal, which proposed lesser cuts to HBCU funding than the May version. “It’s a raw deal that robs the poor and the middle-class to pay the richest of the rich.”

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Nigeria’s Unbalanced Budget – By Hilary Matfess May 23, 2016

Cutting Funds for Amnesty Could Trigger Instability

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at May 24, 2016 1.06

On May 12, after a week’s delay, Nigeria quietly released the details of its federal budget. Although few gave it much attention—more eyes have been focused on Boko Haram’s roiling insurgency in the north—the budget allocations could very well retrigger instability in the south, where militias had fought for decades over the spoils of the oil-rich Niger Delta. In particular, the government cut 70 percent of funding for its Niger Delta amnesty program, a guns-for-cash-and-jobs training exchange for former militants involved in past Niger Delta conflicts. The decision was surprising, since President Muhammadu Buhari had only announced a few months earlier that he would extend the program through 2017. The cuts come following steep declines in Nigeria’s oil revenue and amid rumblings of a recession.

The cuts come at a particularly crucial time for the country’s stability. The program was regarded as having successfully disarmed and transitioned back into society nearly 30,000 former insurgents after it was created in 2009. In other words, many former insurgents had laid down their weapons and not picked them back up. But tensions have been rising again over federal petroleum policies, which distribute the oil revenue among Nigeria’s 36 states and govern the environmental and social responsibilities of the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta. Now newly formed militias are repeating the old call for more regional autonomy. Part of their discontent is related to long-standing religious and regional tensions, as Christian southerners are wary of the Muslim president, Buhari, who hails from the country’s north and who is now seeking to reduce their resources. That is why this budget cut could reignite conflict in the Niger Delta.

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Ryan presents stark choices to conservatives on spending – By LAUREN FRENCH and BEN WEYL 02/12/16 01:38 PM EST

The speaker tells rank-and-file members that failing to pass a budget could lead to a much worse outcome.

Ryan opened the Republican meeting by describing the realities of tackling a budget, stressing there was an opportunity to act on a conservative agenda if the House can move past the current budget stalemate. | AP Photo

The speaker tells rank-and-file members that failing to pass a budget could lead to a much worse outcome.

House Republicans can do three things with the 2017 budget: pass it, punt on it or just give up.

That’s the message Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) delivered to his conference Friday morning during a prolonged meeting in the Capitol that was described by attendances as an airing of grievances about the funding blueprint before the House.

The top-line numbers for the budget, which were agreed to last year, have met a familiar roadblock with conservative lawmakers who question why spending levels were increased for 2017 as part of an omnibus debate with Democrats.

Ryan opened the Republican meeting by describing the realities of tackling a budget, stressing there was an opportunity to act on a conservative agenda if the House can move past the current budget stalemate.

But lawmakers need to act, Ryan said. He asked whether Republicans were willing to give up on the appropriations process and a potential chance at entitlement reform over a relatively small funding increase.

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20 Furloughed Government Employees Share Their Thoughts on the Shutdown – By Dan Amira- Yesterday at 11:23 AM

  • Federal workers demonstrate against the government shutdown in front of the US Capitol in Washington on October 4, 2013. The US government shut down for the first time in 17 years on October 1 after lawmakers failed to reach a budget deal by the end of the fiscal year.

For most Americans, the shutdown is yet another embarrassing political circus. But for the 800,000 or so federal employees who were placed indefinite furlough this week, it’s a lot more personal. And as the stalemate drags on, we wanted to hear what was on their minds. So we gave twenty furloughed federal employees 100 words to say, well, whatever they wanted. Some of them shared their insights on the serious repercussions happening behind the scenes. Others confessed their fears about not being able to get by financially. All of them, from the left and right, expressed frustration with being caught in the middle of Congress’s latest power struggle.


Archie Cubarrubia, Education Research Analyst, Department of Education:

I’m an immigrant. Growing up, I wanted to be nothing else but American, do nothing else but pursue public service. At my naturalization ceremony, I promised to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” I love our democracy. But what’s happening isn’t democracy. It’s anarchy perpetuated by people in pursuit of ideological extremism at the expense of America’s citizens. This isn’t how America is supposed to work. I remember what I felt when I took that oath. At this moment, all I feel is disappointment.

Ted Lehr, software developer in the “intelligence community”:

My question is: Why am I furloughed? My contract is fully funded – the money sitting there waiting to be used. So why am I at home, not earning a paycheck. As a single income family of 5, my paycheck is pretty important. The answer: it is important for Reid and Obama to create panic over the shutdown. Massive numbers of furloughed employees, closing of parks that are never manned anyway, and a media at the ready to stir up a panic to save an already broken health care system.