In recent weeks, former Office of Management Budget (OMB) Director Russ Vought has become the center of attention over the debt ceiling showdown. Republican lawmakers have privately met with Vought to pitch $150 billion in spending cuts as part of the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling. Vought—a former Trump cabinet official—maintains that the discussions will not center on cuts to Social Security and Medicare. However, his ties to MAGA Republicans and his time at OMB paint a different picture.
Following his time in the Trump Administration, Vought founded the Center for Renewing America (CRA), hiring former OMB and Trump officials to “sustain Trump’s political movement.” CRA has extensive financial ties to the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), which itself has deep ties to fringe lawmakers in the House, many of whom are a part of the House Freedom Caucus.
- From July 2004 to December 2008, Vought worked in numerous senior roles at the Republican Study Committee (RSC), including as Budget Director, Policy Director, and eventually Executive Director. In September 2005, the RSC called for $200 billion in cuts to Medicare over ten years, hiking premiums on healthcare plans by over $200 for “millions of elderly people struggling to get by on incomes modestly above the poverty line.” The group also called for $246 billion in cuts to Medicaid, impacting a program providing “50 million economically vulnerable children, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and other adults with access to life-saving and life-preserving health care.” While Vought was at the RSC, the group called for the partial privatization of Social Security, with then-Chair Mike Pence stating, “conservatives want to see personal retirement accounts that have immediate relevance to younger americans.’”
- During his time at OMB, Vought helped oversee numerous Trump budget proposals which would significantly cut Medicare and Social Security over a ten year period. In 2019, Trump’s budget proposal called for slashing Medicaid by $1.5 trillion, Medicare by $845 billion, and Social Security by $25 billion over ten years. However, Vought claimed Trump was “keeping his commitment” to not cut entitlement programs. Trump’s 2020 budget proposal again called for slashing Medicare by $451 billion, with Vought defending the president saying: “reducing the cost of health care is not a cut.” Vought—in an “unprecedented” move—also obstructed the incoming Biden Administration in 2020 from meeting with career OMB officials, delaying the development of President Biden’s first budget proposal.
- In January 2023, Vought revealed during a Fox News appearance that he was “involved in the negotiations” and helped to write the rules package for MAGA Republicans for the 118th Congress. Vought pushed the House Republican leadership to align themselves with the House Freedom Caucus, arguing that conservative voters expect to get a House Freedom Caucus member when voting for a Republican candidate.
- During a January 2023 appearance on Steve Bannon’s War Room Vought pushed the false narrative that Republicans “have all the time in the world” and should avoid folding to “fake” debt ceiling deadlines, instead calling on the Biden Administration to pass spending cuts to the “woke and weaponized government” before Republicans agree raise the debt limit. Vought has worked with members of The House Freedom Caucus to address this “woke” spending, including Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) who said his office would “use a lot of what Russ had,” while calling for significant cuts to “woke” programs at the departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services, totaling at least $150 billion.
- Vought also has connections to former Heritage Foundation president and former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, who founded the Conservative Partnership Institute, affiliated with the Center for Renewing America. Vought has appeared throughout CPI’s multi-media materials, and has even produced podcasts at CPI’s studios.
- At the Center For Renewing America, Vought employs three former OMB officials who worked under him at OMB. Senior Fellow Mark Paoletta served three years at OMB as general counsel, where he worked to “develo[p] the legal pathway to build the wall along the southern border.” CRA communications director Rachel Semmel also served as the communications director at OMB, where she “managed the day-to-day operations of the communications team and led OMB’s overall strategy.” Finally, Vought also hired Ashlea Frazier as CRA’s chief operating officer. She worked as the chief of staff at OMB under Vought, where she “over[saw] agency staff transitions and implement[ed] policy priorities of President Trump.“
- CRA also employs former Trump DOJ official Jeff Clark—CRA’s Senior Fellow and Director of Litigation—who was investigated for his involvement to try and overturn the 2020 presidential election while at the Department of Justice. Kash Patel—a former Trump administration National Security Council official and Senior Fellow for National Security and Intelligence at CRA—pushed a false narrative that Trump declassified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago resort in August 2022.
- While heading the Center for Renewing America, Vought has spoken at numerous conservative retreats and bootcamps welcoming incoming House Republicans. Vought has spoken on issues pertaining to “critical race theory and the left’s mission to divide America,” “building a stronger America: conservative policy solutions,” and “conservative policy priorities for the 118th Congress,” among other issues.