Treasury secretary on reducing gov't spending: "Not an issue we're focused on right now"

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says the Trump White House is "not focused" on reducing government spending, as the administration continues to push Republicans' plans to overhaul the nation's tax code.

"We are focused on regulation. We are focused on kind of the two-for-one, getting rid of two regulations for any one," Mnuchin said Sunday on CBS News' "Face the Nation." 

President Trump signed an executive order in January during his first month in office that aimed to reduce the number of government regulations. The order required two regulations to be removed for every new regulation added, making good on a promise he made during the campaign. The White House said the order aimed to reduce the burden the private sector has in complying with federal standards. 

Now, after both the House and Senate formally unveiled their tax plans and are moving to conference to hash out differences between the two bills, Mnuchin says both House and Senate bills have "the absolute same objectives."

Asked about the lowering of corporate tax rates not officially kicking in until 2019 under the Senate's version of the legislation, Mnuchin said, "Obviously, we would prefer if they kicked in sooner rather than later, but we're going to work with the Senate on that issue."

Currently, the House proposal gradually lowers the corporate tax rate, from 35 percent to 20 percent, by 2022. 

Mnuchin added, "even if they [rates] don't kick in, expensing will kick in right away. So companies will be able to take advantage of expensing at a higher tax rate. But I'm confident that this is one of the issues that, when we get to conference, we'll resolve between the House and the Senate." 

Mnuchin also said Mr. Trump is concerned about the nation's debt, saying his number one focus remains on growth. 

"The president is concerned about the debt. We've gone from $10 trillion to $20 trillion under the last administration, that's concerning. But our number one focus right now is on growth. If we can create 3 percent or higher sustained economic growth, that's over $2.5 trillion of additional revenue to the government, $10 trillion of additional revenue to the economy. And that's what's critical to the American public."

Meanwhile, as Mr. Trump prepares to wrap up his first trip to Asia as president, his recent comments on Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election have reignited debate back home -- something Mnuchin says the American public needs to "move on" from. 

"Let me just say that we are absolutely carrying out the sanctions. And that's something we're very focused on. The president has said that he believes in the intelligence. He's also said that he believes that Putin believes what he said," said Mnuchin.

He added, "But it's really time to move on off this issue. I think the president was focused on very important issues, such as North Korea and Syria, where we have to get along with and have common goals with Russia. And that's what's really important right now."

President Trump said on Sunday that he believes U.S. intelligence agencies, which have concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But Mr. Trump also said he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is sincere when he says Russia didn't interfere.

"I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election," Mr. Trump said of Putin at a news conference with Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang in Hanoi. "As to whether I believe it, I'm with our agencies."

"As currently led by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies," he added.

Mnuchin said based on "confidential information" he's seen, "nobody thinks" Russian interference "has had any impact on the election."

"So whatever occurred, there was no impact. So I think the American public is ready to move on to more important issues: tax reform and foreign policy and national security," he added. 

  • Emily Tillett

    Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital