White House: Don’t give budget details
Cabinet and agency officials told not to elaborate on cuts.
WASHINGTON — The White House is instructing Cabinet heads and agency officials not to elaborate on President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts beyond what was in a relatively brief submission, a move Democrats decried as a gag order.
Budget director Mick Mulvaney wrote in a memo late last week that until the full budget release in May, “all public comments of any sort should be limited to the information contained in the Budget Blueprint chapter for your agency,” referring to the 53-page document released last Thursday.
The budget traded a $54 billion boost for the military for crushing cuts to domestic programs like medical research, community development, foreign aid and a slew of other services. Typically, Cabinet heads and agency officials testify before the respective congressional committees on the budget after its release.
Mulvaney said department and agency heads should not make “commitments about specific programs” or provide further detail about cuts to programs that went unmentioned in last week’s summary budget, which glossed over many of the most politically difficult details.
“It is critically important that you not make commitments about specific programs if they are not expressly mentioned in the budget,” Mulvaney wrote in the memo. “Similarly, you should not address account-level details. Comments of such specifics need to wait until the release of the full budget.”
Mulvaney’s memo is similar to edicts issued by previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican.
“Was it a gag order in 2009 when President Obama’s OMB issued a similar memo?” said Mulvaney spokesman John Czwartacki.
He also noted that Mulvaney was confirmed to lead the Office of Management and Budget almost one month later than was the experience of earlier administrations.
But the current order is stricter since Trump’s initial budget submission is far lighter on details than the interim budget submitted by President Barack Obama in 2009, for instance. Mulvaney also said that only Cabinet or agency heads should testify before Congress.
In addition, House hearings featuring Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and top National Institutes of Health officials have been postponed, leading Democrats to charge that the White House has issued a gag order to avoid negative publicity about the budget.
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, at Capitol Hill on Tuesday, wrote a memo telling officials to limit comments to information in the Budget Blueprint.