Government Spending

The Senate Will Vote on a $2.7 Trillion Budget Deal That Adds to the National Debt. The Democrats' Debates Ignored It.

CNN doesn't think Americans deserve to hear potential presidents asked about the national debt.


Before the end of the day, a budget-busting, deficit-hiking, $2.7 trillion spending deal will probably be on its way to President Donald Trump's desk, and he appears willing to sign it.

But you wouldn't know about that if you watched this week's Democratic primary debates.

The Senate is poised for a final vote on the budget deal later Thursday—the bill cleared the House with bipartisan support last week, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin hammered out the details last month. The two-year, $2.7 trillion budget deal hikes federal spending by about $320 billion annually and is estimated to add about $1.7 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. It also shatters budget caps. It actually hikes spending above the pre-sequester baseline that was in place prior to the 2011 budget deal, which temporarily reduced federal spending and brought an end to trillion-dollar deficits for a few years.

That Senate vote was supposed to take place Wednesday, but was postponed a day amid rumors that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) was having a difficult time getting a majority of his caucus to back the plan, Politico reported yesterday. Under longstanding unwritten Senate rules, a so-called "majority of the majority" must approve of legislation in behind-closed-doors meetings before it will be brought to the floor.

So there's a sliver a hope for fiscal sanity in Washington, D.C., today, with some prominent conservatives openly opposing the deal. Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah) says he will vote against the plan because it "perpetuates fiscal recklessness." Both senators from Florida, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, are on the record in opposition. So are Sen. Mike Lee (R–Utah) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R–Penn.), both well-known as fiscal conservatives.

It's more likely that the eventual vote will be, as Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) said Wednesday on the Senate floor,  "the last nail in the coffin" of the Tea Party—the grassroots conservative movement that sprung up a decade ago to oppose higher spending and bigger deficits, only to be largely subsumed into the Trump takeover of the GOP. Paul also plans to vote against the plan.

If Republicans can't muster enough opposition to stop the deficit-increasing budget deal from passing, it's unlikely that Democrats will. Even with the $2.7 trillion budget deal hanging in the balance, Democratic candidates for president did not utter a single word about the national debt or federal deficit during the debates in Detroit this week.

There was some robust discussion of health care spending—which accounts for about 40 percent of federal outlays—but only in the context of debating how much more of Americans heath care costs the government should cover. Questions focusing on how Democrats would pay for Medicare for All and other health care proposals were mostly brushed off by candidates as "Republican talking points"—a barb that actually gives Republicans far more credit than they deserve, given their recent budgetary track record.

Maybe CNN should take most of the blame for this. Its debate moderators spent more than four hours over two nights grilling 20 presidential hopefuls, yet they did not see fit to ask a single question about the $22 trillion (and growing) national debt—and the candidates, unsurprisingly, did not bring it up on their own.

Considering that several of the candidates on the state are current members of the U.S. Senate, the very legislative body that will vote on the budget deal Thursday, CNN missed an important and obvious opportunity for voters to draw distinctions among the 20-member debate field.

Would any of the candidates have offered even the slightest suggestion that adding trillions more to the $22 trillion national debt might be an error we'll regret later? Maybe we'll find out at the next debate in September, but don't hold your breath.