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Mulvaney uses budget debate to push his conservative agenda

U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney emerged from the latest round of budget battles a more entrenched leader of the hyper-conservative wing of House Republicans and a critic of less aggressive policy makers both in his party and across the aisle.

Wielding a bit of political gamesmanship, Mulvaney, a first-term Republican from Indian Land, pushed the GOP-controlled House this week to a symbolic rejection of President Barack Obama’s economic policies when he asked House leaders to debate the Democrat’s budget.

Mulvaney took to the House floor on Wednesday speaking sarcastically, he later admitted, when he said his proposed amendment to a GOP budget bill was a gesture of “bipartisanism” after Democrats didn’t bring the president’s proposed spending plan to the floor themselves.

Not doing so, he said, was an “oversight” by Democrats who “clearly...meant to offer the president’s budget.”

During the debate, Mulvaney criticized what he called a “White House memo” that he said encouraged Democrats to vote against his amendment.

When Democrats accused Mulvaney of presenting a “charade” – something other than Obama’s spending plan – Mulvaney said he crafted his amendment from the Congressional Budget Office’s “nonpartisan analysis of what the president gave us.”

“It’s not a charade,” he said. “It’s not a gimmick, unless what we’re voting on is the same as the president’s budget.”

The White House issued a statement this week pointing out that Mulvaney’s amendment included only top-line spending and revenue numbers – without any underlying specifics.

His fellow Republicans – including the author of a GOP spending plan now at the center of the House’s efforts – acknowledged that Mulvaney’s amendment was not the president’s entire budget proposal.

Mulvaney, who voted against his own amendment, admitted later that he offered his version of the president’s budget to make a point. The amendment was voted down unanimously.

Democrats offered their own spending plan for consideration this week, which the House rejected Thursday, along with several other spending proposals.

The budget proposal submitted by House Democrats contained spending increases like Obama’s, Mulvaney said, but “not as much as the president’s.”

If Mulvaney was attempting to turn the budget into a “solid re-election year issue,” it might get overshadowed by other issues, said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political scientist and pollster.

But still, Mulvaney’s move was a “clever” maneuver to “score political points with his base,” he said.

“To the degree that moderates see it as gamesmanship,” Huffmon said, they will disapprove.

Fortunately for Mulvaney, who’s entering the race for South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District in a favorable position, Huffmon said, “elections are won or lost in getting out your base – or failing to do so.”

Only one opponent has filed to run against Mulvaney – Democrat Joyce Knott, a Rock Hill businesswoman and campaigner for former U.S. Rep. John Spratt, whom Mulvaney unseated in the 2010 elections.

In a 212-164 vote, the House passed a spending plan Thursday introduced by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and House budget committee chairman.

Republicans say their plan would repeal the health care law passed when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, shift Medicaid and a federal food stamps program to block-grants for states, simplify tax brackets, cut spending and offer vouchers to Medicare recipients to purchase health care in the private market.

It is expected to go nowhere in the Senate, where Democrats still are in the majority.

Democrats have criticized the House budget, saying it would harm safety net programs while holding the wealthiest of Americans and corporations harmless.

Mulvaney and members of the Republican Study Committee – which bills itself as the conservative caucus among House Republicans – introduced an even more conservative alternative to Ryan’s plan. The RSC’s proposal was among the budgets rejected in the House Thursday.

Mulvaney, who wrote the RSC’s budget, said it promises to balance federal finances in five years, something no other budget would, including Ryan’s plan, which promises to balance by 2022.

McClatchy newspapers contributed