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Rep. Sanford Doesn't Believe Trump's Budget Numbers


And for reaction to President Trump's proposed budget, we're joined by South Carolina Representative and Freedom Caucus member Mark Sanford on the phone from his district. Good morning, sir.

MARK SANFORD: Good morning to you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You grilled Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney this past week at a committee hearing. You called the White House's numbers in effect a lie, and you said they were fooling the American public. What's your main concern here, sir?

SANFORD: My main concern is for us to have a real debate regardless of our different political perspectives. We've got to base it on real numbers. If not, we end up with some optimistic projections that create numbers that aren't there, and we forego the debate that ought to be taking place between Republicans, Democrats and independents alike on how we allocate the resources of our country on the federal budget side.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You think essentially that their numbers are too rosy, that we cannot sustain 3 percent growth on which this budget is based.

SANFORD: Well, I think we can as a country, and the question is will we over the next 10 years. And I think that the math absolutely shows that we won't. I'll give you a couple of different indicators, but to give you one - the average economic expansion in the history of our republic has been 54 months. We're now at 96 months. We're in the third-longest economic expansion in American history. Hasn't been as robust as some people would like, but we have had a continuous expansion for 96 months. What they suppose in their budget is that we're going to defy the laws of sort of financial reality, and the economic cycle will be dead. We won't have another recession, and we'll go another 214 months without an economic downturn. I don't think that that's the kind of bet that you take as a businessperson, and I don't think we should take it in terms of federal policy with regard to the budget.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Entitlements is a huge issue. Medicare, Social Security - they haven't been touched because it is politically unpopular. But you've said you can't balance a budget without tackling entitlements. Do you see a political will for this?

SANFORD: Not currently. I mean, the president has said it's off limits. Again, that's my big problem with the 3 percent growth projection as well, which is to say it in essence re-establishes the lie, which is that we can balance the budget without addressing entitlement spending. I think that if you look at the raw math, you can't. I might also say this - some people have said, you know, well, we can get the 3 percent based on, you know, productivity growth - but you got to, again, be realistic - and labor force growths. On the labor force front, it would literally take us going back to what we saw in the 1970s and 1980s when women were joining the workforce in record numbers for us to meet the labor numbers - that or some radical change with regard to our immigration policy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You mention immigration right now. Obviously, the Trump administration is trying to slow immigration. Do you think easing immigration restrictions is a good way to push the economy forward?

SANFORD: I don't think that there's a, you know, political accord to do so. I would say that one of things we have to look at over the long run is moving from a family formation-based immigration policy to one that's merit or needs based. A lot of countries around the globe, whether it's Canada or Australia, have said, yeah, you can come to our country if you're bringing a skill set. And what we have in our country is basically reunification of families, which is important for those families but of less value to society as a whole. I think we need to be in the business of attracting great mental capacity, great talent on any front. And therefore a needs-based system probably makes a lot of sense.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Those on the left see a Republican Congress that is unwilling or possibly even unable to act as a check on the executive. While President Trump's numbers are not good broadly, his base and the Republican base remains loyal for now. How closely does his support inform how much of a check you give to the executive?

SANFORD: For me, it doesn't at all. I mean, you know, if that was the case, I wouldn't have been asking for his tax returns at the very time that he went into office.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think your colleagues, though, are acting as a check on the executive right now?

SANFORD: I would say that it's the nature of parties that they seem to protect themselves. And at times, there's not as a robust a check by Democrats on a Democratic administration. At times, there's not as robust a check by Republicans on a Republican administration.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Would you say the nature of this administration is different than perhaps other administrations, though?

SANFORD: I think that's an understatement.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina, thanks for joining us.

SANFORD: My pleasure. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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