Donald Trump

Donald Trump's Deficit Reduction Numbers Are Total Nonsense

Trump says he can get $300 billion in cuts from $78 billion in spending. Er, what?


Foter / Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump says his economic plans would save the government money and reduce the deficit. But in tonight's Fox News debate, moderator Chris Wallace made it perfectly clear that his numbers don't even begin to add up.

And Trump, insanely, continued to say that they do—and very nearly ended up insisting that he could cut $300 billion out of $78 billion in spending. Donald Trump's attempted defense of his plan was, instead, a demonstration of why it wouldn't work.

Wallace began by noting that Donald Trump's tax plan would increase the deficit* by a whopping $10 trillion, and that Trump generally dismisses this concern by saying that much of that could be made up by the elimination of waste, fraud, and abuse. So what, specifically, Wallace asked, would Trump cut?

Here's the relevant part of Trump's answer:

Department of Education. We're cutting Common Core. We're getting rid of Common Core. We're bringing education locally. Department of Environmental Protection. We are going to get rid are of it in almost every form. We're going to have little tidbits left but we're going to take a tremendous amount out.

We have various other things. If you look at the IRS, if you look at every single agency, we can cut it down, and I mean really cut it down and save. The waste, fraud, and abuse is massive.

Okay, fine. Cut the Department of Education entirely. Eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency (we'll assume that's what he meant by "Department of Environmental Protection").

Even if you managed to completely cut all spending related to those entire departments, it still wouldn't even begin to eliminate the deficit we already have. As Wallace went on to note, this year's deficit alone is $544 billion. Trump's tax plan would add an additional $10 trillion in deficits over the next years. Wallace put this to Trump, telling him, "your numbers don't add up, sir."

Tellingly, Trump responded by shifting subjects and bringing up drug costs:

Let me explain something. Because of the fact that the pharmaceutical companies—because of the fact that the pharmaceutical companies are not mandated to bid properly, they have hundreds of billions of dollars in waste.

We don't bid properly. We don't have proper bidding procedures. The reason we don't is because they take care of all of the senators, all of the congressman, and they don't bid. They don't go out to bid. 

At which point Wallace pointed out that Trump's numbers—and there's no other way to put this—are complete and utter nonsense. Here's the full exchange, via The Washington Post's transcript:

TRUMP: Take a look—excuse me. You are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars…

WALLACE: No, you are not.

TRUMP: … if we went out to the proper bid. Of course you are.

WALLACE: No, you're not, sir. Let's put up full screen number 2.

You say that Medicare could save $300 billion a year negotiating lower drug prices. But Medicare total only spends $78 billion a year on drugs. Sir, that's the facts. You are talking about saving more money on Medicare prescription drugs…

TRUMP: I'm saying saving through negotiation throughout the economy, you will save $300 billion a year.

WALLACE: But that doesn't really cut the federal deficit.

TRUMP: And that's a huge—of course it is. We are going to buy things for less money. Of course it is. That works out…

WALLACE: That's the only money that we buy—the only drugs that we pay for is through Medicare.

TRUMP: I'm not only talking about drugs, I'm talking about other things. We will save $300 billion a year if we properly negotiate. We don't do that. We don't negotiate. We don't negotiate anything.

So, to review, here is the structure of the exchange: Wallace asks Trump how he would offset the deficit increases incurred by his tax plan. Trump says waste, fraud, and abuse. Wallace asks Trump to be specific about cuts. Trump says he'd cut the Department of Education, and the EPA. Wallace says that even if you eliminate those programs entirely, it doesn't even come close to offsetting Trump's deficit increase. Trump doesn't respond directly, changes the subject, and brings up drug costs. Wallace points out that Trump's numbers on drug costs are also completely untethered from reality.

And then Trump insists—well, it's not totally clear what he ends up saying. But no matter what, it's absurd.

It's possible that he is just babbling incoherently, saying whatever random words come to mind. ("I'm not only talking about drugs, I'm talking about other things.")  It's possible that he's trying to argue that when he claims $300 billion in savings, he's talking about savings throughout the economy. ("I'm saying saving through negotiation throughout the economy, you will save $300 billion a year.") But if that's the case, then that's an admission that the savings he promised from government spending are imaginary. And it's even possible that what he's trying to say is that he will cut $300 billion a year from $78 billion in Medicare prescription drug spending. (WALLACE: "But that doesn't really cut the federal deficit." TRUMP: "And that's a huge—of course it is.") Which would be…impressive, to say the least. 

In any case, it's clear—not that it wasn't already—that Donald Trump has no idea what he's talking about when it comes to the budget, the deficit, health care policy, or, probably, anything at all. And when someone points this out, Trump's response, however you interpret it, is essentially to declare war on math, language, and reality itself. 

(*Yes, this is really a way of saying that it would increase total debt by this much over the course of a decade, via annual increases in the deficit. But "deficits" has become the catch-all word for describing budget gaps, and that's how it was described in the debate, so for the purposes of this post, at least, that's the language I'm going to use.) 

NEXT: Reason Live Tweets the GOP Debate

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  1. Nothing matters to his supporters. They’re votin’ angry!

    1. They see me rollin’…

  2. So we’re criticizing him wanting to cut a ton of bloated bureaucracies. And there’s certainly multiplier effects of EPA and other programs dragging the economy down beyond just their budgets but by stifling innovation.

    I don’t necessarily think Trump or anyone else really knows how much that could help the economy specifically but i don’t see much worth criticizing. This seems more like TEAM bullshit. Sure, we wanted those same ideas but he’s on the bad team so now cutting government is bad and the only price of bureaucracy is the reported budget.

    1. No one is ever going to cut spending. Ever. It’s a ridiculous fantasy because Team Red won’t touch the military and wants to grow it and Team Blue won’t touch the welfare state and wants to grow it.

      Neither will do anything to Social Security and Medicare. Trump is no more full of shit here than anyone I agree but there’s also nothing praiseworthy about it.

      1. So why in diddlyfucking hell do we keep yammering about it then? Jesus.

        1. Because Trump is offensively stupid. Imagine you work for a multi-billion dollar company and they are considering hiring the guy who cleans the toilets at taco ball as their new CEO.

          It’s like that only less reasonable.

      2. Trump proposes “holding the line” on military spending.

    2. and add to that the rumor mill that Trump wants to put The Judge on SCOTUS and permit insurance to be bought across state lines, but apparently reason has decided its social signaling is more important than, you know, actually bothering to look at a candidate.

      1. Typical Reason.

    3. We’re criticizing Trump because he’s a fucking bullshit artist not because of his earnest desire to reduce the size of gov’t.

      1. Often in life I prefer bullshit artists in many endeavors. This is now one of them.

      2. Let’s be honest. Reason and many of the commenters here have largely spent the last year tearing even Rand Paul and Gary Johnson apart for any kind of perceived deviation from their vision of ‘libertarian purity’. Someone like Trump, who is far less libertarian and not a pseudo-sophisticate apparently causes endless pants shitting here.

        In the words of Walt Kelly’s ‘Pogo’, “We have met the enemy, and he is us”.

  3. The general delusion on all sides this year is truly breath taking…..not to mention depressing.

    1. It does seem especially awful, doesn’t it?

    2. Delusions have a way of being ripped to shreds by reality.

  4. It’s almost like Reason writers think Trump has support based on his proposed policies. “If we expose him as a fraud, he’ll lose his voter support.”

    Not going to happen. Most Trump supporters know the game is rigged and are planning to burn the party down with a “fuck you” vote. And that’s all. They aren’t paying attention to what he says. They’re jeering when he calls the establishment GOP candidates out as losers.

    1. Sure, many if not most Trump supporters are just supporting him because they believe, for some strange reason, that they are hurting “the establishment” by doing so. In reality they’re only hurting Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, but hey.

      But that still leaves two good reasons to point out that he’s a nutball:
      1. for the sake of those Trump supporters who are open to reason
      2. because politics is short of people willing to tell the truth, which makes telling the truth valuable even if nobody’s listening.

      1. It’s a need for observers more than for telling. The telling is just the record of the observation. Somebody needs to see the truth and not instantly redact the reality to bring it in line with what the government says is really true. The value in such observers is only augmented the more people are disinclined to admit truth.

    2. They’ll be hitting the vote button with their middle finger.

  5. Donald Trump has a very specific plan for how he’s going to achieve everything he says he’s going to achieve and that plan is brilliantly simple – elect Donald Trump. He will take it from there. Whatever he says he’s going to get done will get done – or at least whatever he gets done will be what he said he was going to get done, and isn’t that the same thing?

  6. nearly ended up insisting that he could cut $300 billion out of $78 billion in spending

    Over 3.8461538461538461538461538461538 years.

    1. I don’t get it. That’s three years and how many days?

  7. Trump has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to the budget, the deficit, health care policy

    As opposed to the experts who have implemented those things.

    1. Do you not have faith in the Top. Men.?

      1. Donald Trump is the toppest of Top Men. After he gets done cutting all the waste and fraud and abuse out of government without actually touching any meaningful programs – just like every damn Republican since Eisenhower has done – he’ll pass the savings on to the chronically under-funded US military and undo all the massive cuts it’s endured over the last half-century of Democratic misrule. Just like every damn Republican since Eisenhower has done. Of course, he’ll be required to do some dealmaking, some horse trading, to get the budget cuts he wants by agreeing to some massive budget increases but that’s okay – every Republican since Eisenhower has done the same thing.

        You know what? I’m starting to think Trump ain’t really all that different than any other Republican since Eisenhower. I’m starting to think maybe I should be less concerned about Trump burning the whole place down and more concerned that he ain’t gonna burn a damn thing down.

    2. With the Obamacare numbers, we have evidence that they knew they were lying.

  8. Bill de Blasio is all manner of fucked up.

    Apparently the recent spate of face slashing in NYC is a good thing. Because of gun control.

  9. Blahblahblah. Your math is about the size of his hands. Trump’s math is about the size of his junk. The only people who think that is comparable have tiny junk. Donald can think big because he’s Yuuuge.

  10. So he employed the same team of economists as Bernie Sanders did?

    1. Yes, but for less money.

    2. and hitlery

  11. Trump’s math makes no sense when it comes to financing/organizing Fedworld. Neither does anyone else’s. Remember Clowncare’s estimates? Everyone knew it was stupid-math when they voted for it. Then everyone acted surprised that it didn’t work.

    Bureaucracies have no idea either, and they are the alleged career pros. Joint Strike Fighter was going to cost like only twenty bucks or something and be deployed by 2012. NASA spent past forty years developing a space-plane, a SSTO, a Mars mission, a return-lunar mission, blew around a quarter trillion on those programs combined, and flew exactly nothing.

    Trump will fit right in with this scene.

  12. Trump’s tax plan would add an additional $10 trillion in deficits over the next years

    Er, no. Trump does not have a plan to increase spending by more than 100% without raising additional taxes. The national debt is a much different thing from the deficit.

  13. Can someone tell me where I can find some information on this guy TRUMP?

    1. I’ll be voting for Gary Johnson or None of the Above, but all of these Trump articles are starting to make me think maybe a President Trump won’t be so terrible, at least not worse than recent ones and probably better than other major party options.

  14. Serious question: is it better or worse to have a politician 1) spout obviously nonsense numbers about how much he’ll cut government spending, or 2) spout semi-convincing but still nonsense numbers about how little a new spending program will cost?

  15. Reason is sinking to a new low with their Trump pearl clutching. Normally, a candidate who will slash bureaucracy and taxes would be praised by libertarians, pointed above. Will he do it successfully? No, almost certainly not. But this is really low down on the list of where to attack him.

    I’m pretty sure I can find Reason articles that make the argument that removing red tape creates growth and brings in revenue. And I’m willing to bet we’d see a real noticeable impact of abolishing the EPA (not that it would happen) which is one of the most burdensome if not the worst such agency in Washington.

    Trump’s healthcare plan was actually about as good as we could hope for as libertarians in the current political climate. And actually somewhat feasible.

    If Reason wants to bash Trump, how about it at least pretends to do so on its own principles? Or at least do it in a consistent manner.

    1. Principles? Ain’t no one got time fo’ dat. They’re too busy white-knighting refugees.

    2. All the pearl divers in history, added together, have not clutched as many pearls as all the conservative, liberal, and libertarian pundits have in the last few months over Trump. It’s absolutely hilarious. My inner dadaist/anarchist/punk is having a great time watching it all.

      Libertarian pearl-clutching is mostly justified and thus the least humorous. Conservative pearl-clutching is funny because their failures in dealing with the Tea Party and immigration brought on Trump.

      But the liberal pearl-clutching is funniest. Eight years of the Lightbringer didn’t turn out so well, did it, you fools? How do you like democracy now, you naive assholes? All those imperial presidential powers you’ve been defending for eight years: not looking like such a good idea now, huh? Sudden a strict reading of the Constitution doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

  16. Deficit reduction talk is absurd to begin with. Our debt based monetary system depends on two factors, ever increasing debt and ever increasing growth. Increasing debt debt is certainly not a problem but the absence of growth can simply be replaced with inflation. “Simply” being a relative term, that is. See the Federal Reserves current struggles to induce inflation and get away from deflation.

    So at the end of the day, the Trump is talking no more nonsense then any other politician. All talk of tax rates, spending, even minimum wage from our paid liars is utter nonsense. Especially from an ideological position.

    The monetary system is the real governor. Tax rates: as much as you can without creating a drag or social rage. Also can be used as a tool to slow runaway inflation among others. Spending: must always be an upward trend. And minimum wage: must rise with inflation and does NOT increase standard of living. All essentially monetary tools.

    I would fall out of my chair if I ever heard one these jack wagons describe real economics.

  17. I don’t like anyone left in the race, but it’s kind of a waste of time bashing the ones who are left.

    At this point, folks have probably made up their mind. Some over a single issue, some over looks or a vagina, for crying out loud.

    If Reason wants to help, they should have spent the past eight years searching high and low for a Libertarian candidate that CAN get elected.

    Oh well. I came for the donuts.

    1. they should have spent the past eight years searching high and low for a Libertarian candidate that CAN get elected.

      And why not look for a rainbow farting unicorn while they’re at it?

    2. Think I’d rather Reason not find out who viable Libertarian candidates might be, given that the prevailing modus operandi is to trash them.

      Rand Paul wasn’t perfect by any means, but look how many negative articles Reason ran about him.

      Likewise, apparently “fuck you, cut spending” is no longer a Libertarian tenet among Reason editors. And here they are bashing Trump for saying he’ll cut spending.

      1. And I actually Trust that Trump will exercise the threat of veto enough to actually cut some spending, because his business ego will demand it. I don’t trust Cruz to make that a priority.

    3. No, I actually changed my preference from Cruz to Trump this week. I’m not enrolled Republican, so I don’t get to vote in NY’s primary, but presumably there are other people like me changing their minds.

  18. It’s possible that he is just babbling incoherently, saying whatever random words come to mind.

    Duh, that’s been his schtick since day one. The man’s a complete moron.

  19. “It was my understanding, there would be no math.”

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  22. I’m surprised any one is talking about deficit reduction. It isn’t going to happen for some time. It might happen if the dollar collapses and we experience a worldwide depression, but then only maybe. Certainly, no administration, Republican or Democrat is going to do anything to shrink the deficit. Too much political money is at stake. We have started down an economic rat hole from which there is no turning back. Eventually, we will see the results. Hopefully, I’ll be long gone.

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  26. Trump said he would eliminate the EPA in the last debate. That alone will get rid of about $2 trillion in regulation costs and free up the economy. Suderman is your typical shallow thinker at unReason. He either doesn’t understand the costs of government, or he is being deliberately stupid.

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