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Nate Jackson / March 11, 2019

Deficit Spending as Far as the Eye Can See

Trump’s budget shifts balance from 10 years to 15, while funding military and a border wall.

President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal will be released today, revealing his priorities for the next decade and beyond. Frankly, that’s all a president’s budget does — Congress routinely says, “Yeah, thanks,” and then promptly ignores every president’s budget. But what does Trump prioritize? Primarily two things: the military and the border wall.

Trump will propose a big boost for the Pentagon, $8.6 billion in new funding for a border barrier, and what The Washington Post says are “major spending cuts across a range of domestic government programs.” Reportedly, that’s a 5% reduction in nondefense discretionary spending amounting to $2.7 trillion.

In practice, however, what are “major cuts” in Beltway Speak are actually slight reductions in the growth rate. Despite media messaging that permeates even many other conservative outlets, actual cuts — i.e. literally spending less year over year — are rare.

The Post notes, “The government now has more than $22 trillion in debt, and the deficit is projected to run between $900 billion and $1 trillion in the coming years.” Of those numbers, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) rightly complains, “Consider that the president’s budget proposes we spend vastly more money than we take in for 15 years, bust the spending caps again, leave ourselves with about a trillion dollars in deficit spending in fiscal 2020, accumulate debt well over $30 trillion by 2030, and lead us to spending more in interest payments than we do on Social Security or defense.”

Indeed, under Trump’s plan, eliminating the deficit will now take 15 years. “Even with deep spending cuts, the president’s plan would not balance the budget until the mid-2030s,” the Post reports, “falling short of the 10-year time frame that Republicans have sought for years.” That includes Trump’s first budget. Ever notice that we never actually get closer to the end of that 10-year window? Republicans and Democrats alike have been promising to “eliminate the deficit in 10 years” since the last time the federal government had a budget surplus in fiscal 2001. Funny how future Congresses and presidents have their own agendas, including kicking the can down the road.

The media deride the tax cuts for that shift in time frame, but the reality is that Trump campaigned on not touching two of the Big Three major entitlements — Social Security and Medicare — and those programs are the primary drivers of deficit spending and national debt. And most Americans just don’t want the reforms needed to change that.

As for the military, it does indeed need a buildup after years of war and Barack Obama’s policies, so a boost is all well and good. And yes, the border barrier should be a priority, but we all know how well the shutdown worked out for security funding. “Chuck and Nancy” are no warmer to the idea of giving Trump what he wants now than they were in December. “Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government,” the pair warned in a statement. “The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again. We hope he learned his lesson.”

Few in Washington ever really learn lessons. They just keep spending the money of future generations.

(Updated.)

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