Enquirer Herald

Mulvaney aims for balanced budget bill

When U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney returns to Capitol Hill this week, he has several goals in mind. They include working on a way to keep more of South Carolina's transportation dollars at home and fighting the nation's environmental regulations.

But the most crucial battle in his mind - and the fight most unlikely to go anywhere, he admits - is a revision to a failed bill advocating a balanced budget amendment.

Mulvaney is pessimistic about his own goals and others', including President Barack Obama's plan for spurring job growth to be revealed this week. He's also skeptical a 12-member joint congressional committee will achieve in its effort to find at least $1.5 trillion more in savings over the next decade.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., who sits on that committee, said his support for a balanced budget bill, which he has supported in "different economic times," will depend on how the bill is written, he wrote in an email to The Herald.

"My focus at this time, however, is on the challenging work before the Super Committee and not drafting legislation on a balance budget amendment which will not come up for a vote in the Senate," he wrote.

Last week, Mulvaney, a first-term Indian Land Republican, sat down with The Herald to talk about his goals and the challenges before Congress as the session reconvenes.

'Cut, Cap, and Balance'

Mulvaney co-authored a bill advocating a constitutional amendment that would require the federal government to have a balanced budget with significant spending cuts and caps.

The bill came about as one proposed solution to the debate over whether to raise the nation's debt ceiling.

The bill would have cut $111 billion from spending next year and capped spending at gradually lower levels each year. It also would have required a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution to be adopted before allowing a debt ceiling increase.

The bill - which came to be known as "Cut, Cap, and Balance" - passed the U.S. House with little support from Democrats before being tabled in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The problem? "One of the biggest criticisms (of the bill) was that it only focused on the spending side," Mulvaney said.

Adding a "revenue component" by ending all energy subsidies and closing some tax loopholes will be part of the discussion. "And we'll start introducing concepts on tax reform that we think help put people back to work and also help the revenue receipts of the government," he said.

Mulvaney advocates changing the corporate tax structure to encourage companies to invest at home. He also wants to change the personal income tax structure so that the first $100,000 of a person's income would be taxed at 10 percent. Anything above that would be taxed at 25 percent.

That would get more people with "skin in the game" by broadening the tax base. Everyone should pay a little because right now half of people don't pay anything, he said.

Federal gas tax

Mulvaney also wants to reform the federal gas tax, which expires this month. He's co-sponsoring a bill that could mean more transportation dollars for South Carolina, he said.

The bill, called the STATE Act, would set up a system where if a state wants to raise its gas tax by 10 cents, the federal government would reduce the tax in that state by the same amount.

In states such as South Carolina - where transportation dollars are scarce - the change would mean more money for road work for the state but no change at the pump, he said.

Right now, South Carolina is a "donor state," meaning it pays more to the federal government in fuel tax than it gets back, Mulvaney, state and local officials have said.

The federal gas tax's expiration provides a good time to have a debate about "how much control the federal government has over our transportation dollars versus the state government," he said.

Environmental regulations

"If you're serious about job creation" you have to be serious about reducing regulation, Mulvaney said.

He supports a bill that would require Congress to approve new regulations before they impact citizens or businesses, he said.

It's called the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny), and it's mostly directed at environmental regulations coming from the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The president says all the right things ... but his agencies are doing the exact opposite and making it difficult not only for us to add new jobs but to keep the jobs that we actually have already."

He cited two companies he visited while in the 5th Congressional District. A gold mine in Lancaster County will have to wait 18 months to conduct more studies before opening. A Chester lumber company is worried it might have to close if it can't meet upcoming regulation changes that Mulvaney says are unreasonable.

"No one's against clean air. No one's against clean water. No one is pro-pollution. The question becomes an issue of degrees and cost-benefit analysis," Mulvaney said, who agrees that environmental regulations need to exist.

"At some point, it's reasonable to suggest that maybe we've gone too far," he said.

Capitol Hill rhetoric

While touring the 5th District during the August congressional recess, Mulvaney has been clear on how difficult getting anything done on Capitol Hill will be. He has pointed to the handful of bills the House and Senate have passed.

"I worry about getting anything done in the next 18 months because now we're in election season," he said. "Folks on both sides of the aisle are starting to hear about whether or not they have opposition, so I think you'll see the window start to close and we'll start focusing more on politics and less on substance."

Mulvaney said he will try to "stay away from the stuff that is politically charged" in an effort "to get something done."

Several of the measures in the next Cut, Cap, and Balance bill will be those the president said he wanted to accomplish in his State of the Union address, Mulvaney said.

"We're looking for ways where the president has opened the door to allow us to try and build some bipartisan support for overall tax reform," he said.

Both parties in Congress working together is looking more and more unlikely, said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"It's total gridlock right now, and it's difficult to see anything getting done," he said.

Making matters worse, the campaign season seems to be nearing full swing early this election cycle.

"I don't think there's any desire to give the president anything," he said, adding that both parties could be using divisiveness as a strategy.

Mulvaney's most trumpeted cause - the balanced budget amendment - is a "nonstarter" for Democrats and may remain that way despite the new provisions, he said.

VIDEO: Mulvaney talks goals

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