EDITORIAL: Trump's only sign of progress: debt

York Dispatch Editorial Board
President Donald Trump takes a question from a member of the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, before boarding Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and then on to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, in the afternoon to praise first responders and console family members and survivors from two recent mass shootings. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Among the justifications for electing Donald Trump president was that he would “run the country like a business.”

Unfortunately, he’s running it like one of his own businesses, which means it’s losing money — bigly, as the president would say.

The bipartisan budget bill recently signed by Trump will add an estimated $1.7 trillion to the ballooning national debt over the next decade. That’s on top of the at least $1.5 trillion in debt that will result from Republicans’ ill-conceived tax breaks that overwhelmingly benefited corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

And when other spending measures the president has signed are factored in, the Trump administration’s contributions to the federal debt will top $4 trillion — or two-thirds of what the national debt totaled in President Bill Clinton’s final year in office (during which the nation ran a surplus).

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And the president is not even through his third year in office.

The national debt — the total amount the government has overspent and must repay — hit $22 trillion for the first time in February and has already shot past $22.5 trillion.

President Trump, recall, campaigned on a promise to erase the national debt in eight years. Add this — along with never taking vacations, forcing Mexico to pay for a wall along the U.S. border and being “president of all the people” — to the president’s list of broken promises.

In fact, it appears to be a promise he’s not even pretending to keep.

After a $780 billion deficit in fiscal year 2018-19, the administration is poised to eclipse $1 trillion in deficit spending this year. And as bad as the financial imbalance is, it would be even worse if it weren’t for the president’s willy-nilly tariffs, which have been funneling money from U.S. importers — largely via increased prices to consumers — into federal coffers.

Still, federal spending is at record levels and there appears to be little interest among Trump & Co. in reining it in.

This is another example of the whiplash-inducing change of position on federal spending among congressional Republicans. When Democratic Barack Obama was in the White House, the GOP insisted every new dollar of federal spending be offset by corresponding cuts elsewhere. Once they took control of the White House and both legislative branches, however, on came the spigots, drenching monied interests and supporters with unnecessary, budget-busting tax breaks.

The problems caused by an ever-mounting national debt should be self-evident (to those outside Capitol Hill, anyway). Aside from constraining future administrations from pursuing important and potentially costly initiatives (such as reducing the effects of an increasingly warming planet), the skyrocketing debt will:

  • Inflate interest rates, which can slow economic growth and hurt wages.
  • Swallow resources that could go toward public improvements including infrastructure and programs to benefit those on society’s fringes.
  • Increase U.S. reliance on foreign powers like China and Saudi Arabia, from whom it must borrow to finance its debt.
  • Reduce the ability to respond to financial calamity, such as the 2008 recession that nearly ground the U.S. economy to a standstill.

All good reasons to take seriously the mountains of money piling up on the debit side of the federal ledger.

The Trump administration needs to set a new, more fiscally responsible course going forward. And unlike with some of his failed businesses, the president will need to be more creative than simply declaring bankruptcy.