It was in April 2016 that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump said he’d be able “to get rid of the $19 trillion in debt … over a period of eight years.”
Now, a year later, the man that President Trump has tasked with that goal, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney, isn’t exactly exuding confidence that the administration will be able eliminate the national debt.
In a wide-ranging interview with CNBC’s John Harwood, Mulvaney offered a blunt assessment of that particular campaign promise — a topic that, as recently as a month ago, the OMB director was hesitant to even weigh in on:
OMB Director Mulvaney when asked about Trump pledge to eliminate nearly $20 trillion debt: It's not the right time for the question.
— Jennifer Shutt (@JenniferShutt) March 16, 2017
When Hardwood asked point-blank about Trump’s “goal of eliminating the debt,” Mulvaney replied:
“It’s fairly safe to assume that was hyperbole. I’m not going to be able to pay off $20 trillion worth of debt in four years. I’d be being dishonest with you if I said that I could.”
Still, as Independent Journal Review noted back in 2016 when Trump first made the “debt elimination” promise, there was plenty in the claim to be dubious about from the start.
Given the fact that the Congressional Budget Office predicted that the deficit would increase by an additional $6.8 trillion between 2017 and 2024, economists were highly skeptical that Trump could achieve what he’d promised — even earning a full “Four Pinocchios” from the Washington Post’s fact-checker:
— Bloomberg Economics (@economics) March 9, 2017
Nonetheless, Mulvaney quickly followed up his “hyperbole” comment with some rationale, adding:
“The reason the president doesn’t want to change some of the mandatory spending, is because the public’s not ready for it yet. They’re ready for economic growth.”
This point seems much more in line with a second, walked-back debt promise that Trump offered in 2016, when he told Fortune that he’d more likely be able to pay off a “percentage of” the debt:
“I believe you can do certain things to pay off the debt more quickly. The most important thing is to make sure the economy stays strong. You can do it in smaller chunks.”
In the proposed budget that the White House released in mid-March, Trump called for cuts to dozens of government programs, departments, and agencies — reductions the likes of which reportedly haven’t been seen in decades.
As Mulvaney noted, however, a definitive picture of the Trump administration’s plan for the budget won’t be available until May, when the finalized version is released.