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Trump Isn't Serious About Balancing the Budget

As long as Medicare, Social Security, and the Pentagon can't be touched, it's hard to believe the president has discovered his inner fiscal hawk.

Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS/NewscomJonathan Ernst/REUTERS/NewscomWhen it comes to reducing the federal deficit, take President Donald Trump neither literally nor seriously.

Trump says he's worried about the growing gap between how much the government spends and how much revenue it takes in—as well he should be, with the deficit on pace to surpass $1 trillion during the current fiscal year. This is a new thing for him. Trump came into office declaring himself the "king of debt" and showed very little concern for deficit spending as his Republican allies in Congress cut taxes and busted through spending caps to boost the budgets of both the military and domestic programs. That combination caused the national debt to rise more than $2 trillion on Trump's watch.

Now the president "is changing his tune on the budget in public statements," write Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta in a lengthy piece published Sunday by The Washington Post.

Trump's inner deficit hawk allegedly emerged last month, when he abruptly ordered his cabinet secretaries to prepare plans for 5 percent across-the-board cuts. In private meetings and at public events since then, Trump has made repeated comments about the need to pay down the debt, Dawsey and Paletta report from conversations with 10 administration officials.

Still, one of the biggest impediments to Trump's interest in cutting the deficit is Trump himself. Publically, the president has promised not to touch entitlement programs such as Social Security or Medicaid—indeed, protecting those programs from supposed Democratic efforts to change them is a prominent message at nearly every Trump rally. And privately, the Post notes, Trump has taken Pentagon cuts off the table.

Of course, entitlement spending is the biggest single driver of America's long-term deficit. Absent any changes to current law, those two programs alone will run a $100 trillion deficit over the next 30 years while the rest of the government will run a slight surplus, according to Congressional Budget Office projections. Military spending, which Trump urged Congress to hike to an all-time high earlier this year, will total $718 billion next year and dwarfs all other non-entitlement spending in the federal budget.

In other words, it's very difficult to be serious about balancing the budget without at least acknowledging that Social Security, Medicare, and the Pentagon will have to be part of the solution.

Beyond those big-picture problems, any attempt to bring the federal government's spending and revenue into balance will likely be stymied by the fact that Trump doesn't seem to understand the numbers he is dealing with. In a telling anecdote from the Post's Sunday story, Trump was reportedly surprised to learn that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff earns a mere $200,000 annually. Trump guessed $5 million and suggested that raises should be in order.

This fits into a pattern for the president. In July, Trump tweeted that his steel and aluminum tariffs would help pay down the national debt. The problem, as I wrote at the time, is that the tariffs are expected to generate about $21 billion this year, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank. The national debt is $21 trillion.

The same problem blows a big hole in Trump's plan to shave 5 percent off all federal departments except the Pentagon. That sort of reduction in discretionary spending would save about $70 billion next year—or about 7 percent of the expected $1 trillion deficit.

Cutting $70 billion in discretionary spending is nothing to sneeze at, of course, and it's surely heartening to hear that Trump is interested in addressing the federal government's out-of-control spending. But the deficit is reaching such astronomical heights that it's realistically not possible to address it while keeping military and entitlement spending out of the discussion.

Even if Trump were serious about slashing federal spending, Congress' desires are ultimately more important—and Congress clearly wants to spend more money on pretty much everything. Last year, for example, the Trump administration made specific proposals for cutting food stamps, farm subsidies, and other discretionary programs. Overall, the proposed 2018 budget aimed to reduce federal spending by about 9 percent over 10 years.

The Republican-controlled Congress instead hiked spending by $400 billion. Trump then signed the budget deal.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • John||

    The Republicans in Congress hiked spending. Yes, Trump signed the spending bill. But his only alternative to no doing that was to shut down the government. I think Trump should have shut down the government and now at least partially owns that spending bill for not doing so.

    Reason can claim to think the same but it isn't very convinced. The last time we had a shut down was when the Republicans in the Senate shut down the government trying to stop Obamacare. And Reason, with the loan exceptin of Gillespie, had a fit and called the Republicans in the Senate everything short of terrorists for shutting down the government. So, forgive me if I am skeptical of any claim Reason makes that they would have supported Trump had he vetoed the bill and caused a shut down.

    All Trump can do is ask Congress to cut the budget or shut down the government with his veto if they don't. Since reason can't credibily claim to support a shut down, they appearently think that the budget would be cut if only Trump asked nicely.

  • Tony||

    And pussies grab themselves I suppose.

    If a unified Republican government can't cut spending, then why does anyone here bother supporting them?

  • John||

    A unified Democratic government couldn't either. No one wants to cut spending. That is the entire point you maligant half wit.

  • Tony||

    Democrats don't want to! They don't run on it. But at least they can keep the fucking trains running.

  • Rat on a train||

    Tell that to Yellow Line riders.

  • JesseAz||

    It's weird watching Tony suck the cock of government inefficiency.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Hihn, you need to turn the morphine drip up to 11, and leave it there.

  • Still Curmudgeoned (Nunya)||

    Look everyone! It's Wesley Mouch!

  • Stevecsd||

    During the 8 years of Obama's presidency the debt went up close to $9 trillion. So, no, the Trump Republicans HAVE NOT added more new debt in 2 years.

    Just look up the national debt numbers 2000-2016.

    But if this trend continues, they will.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    The Republicans are outspending the democrats by a long shot.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Pussies don't have opposable thumbs. Other than that they're perfect in every way.

  • Ship of Theseus||

    I think the focus on Trump when discussing issues like this is stupid. Trump isn't serious about cutting spending, but neither are the rest of the Repubs or Dems, and Trump has the least amount of control (or have we forgotten how budgets are passed?) I understand that the executive branch submits a budget (which is itself very stupid, but that's a separate issue), yet Congress can tell him to go to hell and pass the budget they want and dare the Pres to shut down the government.

  • John||

    Exactly. Congress sets the budget. It doesn't matter how serious Trump is. It matters how serious Congress is and they are not serious at all as you point out. If the day ever comes that Trump shuts down the government because Congress cut spending too much, then we can talk about Trump not being serious about cutting the budget. Until that day comes, however, what matters is Congress not being serious.

  • JesseAz||

    Trump can't do anything with veto proof budgets as he has had sent to him. I'm really starting to wonder if reason needs to send their editors to a fofth grade civics class.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    You're not wanted here Hihn, go away.

  • CE||

    Just veto everything. Libertarian moment.

    No budget passes, Congress goes home, government shuts down, states start deciding how much government we really need, people move to the state that makes the most sense to them.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    He is backing the spending, not vetoing it.

  • ThomasD||

    Appropriations must start in the House, no?

    Early next year the Democrats will have a chance to display their seriousness about cutting spending.

  • ||

    Why does the President submit a budget that no one listens to? Blame Nixon.
    Most people don't realize it, but all of this budget stuff got really stupid because of Nixon. Prior to Nixon, the President had a shit-ton more authority. One of the tricks that Nixon tried to pull was not spending money on programs he didn't like. Not little programs, think $100 billion programs.

    Anyway, this pissed Congress off. When Nixon was on the road to impeachment, they saw an opportunity. They passed a law which basically made the Congressional budget a law. The president must dutifully execute the law, remember? Any sane President would have fought this tooth-and-nail. Nixon couldn't. So, he signed it hoping that it would buy him some political capital with Congress and forestall the impeachment.

    Anyway, this is why you have the President submitting a budget that is just a "suggestion" and Congress having absolute authority. It was all Nixon.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Has any presidential candidate proposed reforming SS or Medicare since W took a swing at SS in 2001?

    On the contrary, I seem to recall Democrats demonizing Paul Ryan with images of pushing Granny down a hill in her wheelchair. The claim was that he was proposing a decrease in the rate of increase in Medicare...

    So... let me know when you find a candidate who has a plan for cutting entitlements. I will vote for him/her.

  • John||

    Newt Gingrich was serious. And Clinton stuck it to him.

  • Dillinger||

    so did National Review. Bob Acosta won a career from it.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Paul Ryan made a passing flirtation with entitlement reform, and ran with his tail between his legs when the commercials of him pushing an old lady in a wheelchair off a cliff began running 24-7 on the TV. Sad part is, his reforms were too little, too slow to even be a workable solution, but rather than run a counter proposal, Team Blue shrieked.

  • grb||

    "Has any presidential candidate proposed reforming SS or Medicare since W took a swing at SS in 2001?"

    President Obama proposed reducing cost-of-living increases under Social Security to limit the program's growth. This was during negotiations w/ House Speaker John A. Boehner on a 4 trillion dollar debt reduction package combining entitlement reform with additional tax revenue. But the majority of those taxes would have come from the wealthy (who currently rent the Republican Party) so Boehner said no.

    Of course Boehner continued to moan about deficits as Republicans always do. Paul Ryan wailed over debt - then proposed trillions in tax cuts with a magic asterisk to pay for it. All the GOP candidates in the last election sternly criticized deficits, even while calling for 4-6 trillion in tax cuts, massive hikes in military spending, and gobs of money for pet spending projects.

    Of course, Democratic candidates also over-pledged, particularly Sanders. You know who over promised the least? Treated the electorate most like adults? The candidate who lost : Clinton

    Oh, and George W? He promised trillions in tax cuts, a trillion dollar new drug benefit - totally unfunded and put on the nation's credit card - and a Social Security privatization plan which would have added still more trillions in debt. He inherited a surplus. He left a projected deficit of 1.3 trillion the day BHO took office.

  • JesseAz||

    Because they aren't facts. They are a sign of an uneducated idiot. He debt never decreased under Clinton. It went up every year. It got close to being static..... Then a funny thing called the dot com bubble burst reducing federal receipts by about 10%. Maybe you've heard of this? Maybe? No? Oh that's right. You're a god damn idiot.

    Now let's look at the bush deficit... This includes fy09 which he never signed. Reid and pelosi pushed a continuing resolution bill forward until Obama was inaugurated and then he signed it. It included the outlays from TARPs loan program even though it was a one time spending event whose outlays we're completely repaid by 2012. Of course Obama counted the repayments as revenue for his deficit reduction while keeping the outlays into the baseline budgeting from 2010 on. The alone counts for almost 15% of the fy09 deficit. Weird you ignorant assholes keep one time spending programs that were repaid in your analysis... Weird.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Yes, time to die Hihn.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    Anyone who uses the term "slaver" is automatically deducted 30 IQ points for lack of name calling prowess.

  • grb||

    There's so much bad-faith weaseling here it can't manage basic coherence.

    First, we have typical right-wing bull**** of feigning not to understand the difference between yearly deficits and accumulating national debt. Thus conservative hacks can ignore progress in reducing the deficit of each year's budget. In the case of Bill Clinton, they can pretend-away surpluses.

    Next, we get word-salad babble about the dot com bubble. Since there isn't a point to be found in any of it, I'll step-in with substance : Reagan had a very good economic expansion and exploded the national debt. This is because supply-side "economics" isn't economics at all, but just another political tactic to promise free stuff. Clinton had an slightly better expansion and produced yearly surpluses by the end of his presidency. This was because of the expansion - plus deficit packages of taxes, structural spending restraints, and spending cuts by both Clinton and GHW Bush. Trump has a good economic expansion and is producing trillion dollar debt. See supply-side comment above.

    And we get this howler: Obama didn't inherit a 1.3 trillion dollar deficit because GWB didn't sign a budget. There's comical. There's stupid. There's dishonest. And there's comical stupid dishonest, which is what that rates. Obama cut plus-trillion dollar deficits by over half his last term. Trump inherited a improving situation and is making things much much worse. Weasel away all you want, those facts don't change.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    There was a lot of messing with the numbers BUT it was a HELL of a lot better than either the dems or republicans have done in a long long time.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    So the dot com crash was Clinton's fault and not the dumbasses giving millions of dollars to anyone who had a pitch and website? lmfao.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    Ahh fuck, you didn't die in a car accident over your Delaware Thanksgiving.

    Oh well there's always chance at Hanukkah.

  • James Pollock||

    "Of course Boehner continued to moan about deficits as Republicans always do."

    Republicans only moan about deficits when they're out of power and don't get to decide where the spending goes. As soon as they're in power again, deficits don't matter because they get to decide where the money is flowing. Then they get voted out, and suddenly the deficits are crucial concerns.

    If a politician is stupid enough to tell you the truth... your taxes are going to go up to pay for this government spending you want... they get punished at the polls at the first opportunity. So politicians go for a different approach. They choose from 1) telling you they're going to cut taxes, and then... it doesn't happen. Maybe next year. 2) telling you they're going to cut taxes, and the deficits go up. 3) Telling you they're going to increase taxes, but only on OTHER PEOPLE.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    To their credit, I honestly believe that Paul Ryan would shove granny down a stairway for $5.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...as his Republican allies in Congress cut taxes...

    OH MY GOD

  • John||

    Reason will never forgive Trump for the crime of taking less of their money. How dare he do that. What a monster.

  • James Pollock||

    Cutting taxes while increasing spending raises the taxes you will (eventually) pay, because you get to pay for what you spent AND interest. Buy now, pay later doesn't make you richer, which is something that Republicans used to understand.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Um no. You don't have to pay. We just print more dollars. It's a beautiful thing.

  • James Pollock||

    Sorry, I should have been specific. I was talking about the United States, not Venezuela.

  • CE||

    It doesn't have to be stolen from anyone's descendants. They can just vote to default.

  • Sevo||

    Why, oh why, did it take Trump's election to make the media understand that it was not intended to be the POTUS lap-dog?
    Might it have something to do with a certain bias?

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    One of my fantasy cures for unbalanced budgets is that every spending bill would have to include its own dedicated revenue source with a yearly budget. Reaching full collection merely stops further collection in that fiscal year. Any shortfall merely stops spending in that fiscal year.

    Forget a balanced budget amendment; they always have exceptions for "emergencies" with no accountability.

    The pitfall is if revenue and spending are seasonal and out of sync; naturally, you have to smooth things out just like any business, which means short-term borrowing, which means predicting future spending, and there you are, right back at accountability.

  • John||

    Have everyone fill out a form with their taxes designating which cabinet departments their tax money can go to fund. If you are a closed borders big defense guy, then desiginate DHS and DOD and nothing else. If you are a give peace love ass sex and pot a chance kind of guy, designate it all for HHS.

    Tally up all of the results, and each cabinet department's budget is the total of however much various taxpayers designated.

  • sarcasmic||

    Like a la carte cable. Never gonna happen. For the same reasons.

  • John||

    It wourl result in DOD, DHS and social security being the only things getting more than a few million dollars in funding. Do you know how many important people would end up broke if that happened?

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Doesn't eliminate the bumpy cash flow problem, still requires some kind of line of credit to smooth things out over the fiscal year, which is all the opening bureaucrats would need to bust the budget.

  • James Pollock||

    "Tally up all of the results, and each cabinet department's budget is the total of however much various taxpayers designated."

    Don't be surprised when it turns out the IRS gets all the tax revenue.

  • CE||

    Just set an Alternative Maximum Tax -- once you pay 10K, you don't have to pay any more and you don't have to fill out any details. Just send in the check and sign the form. (It probably has to be 20K right now though, with a 4 trillion dollar budget.)

    If you can't pay the whole 10K everyone owes, you have to file a tax return to prove your financial hardship.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Geez, I'd have to mark everything for the U.S. patent office. Even though I disagree with some aspects of patent law, at least, constitutionally, Congress has, effectively, carte blanche there. A lot of stuff the DOD and DHS does is just flatly unconstitutional, as are the activities of most other departments and bureaus.

  • The Last American Hero||

    I was taught in US Govt class that Congress spends the money. But that was a long time ago, so maybe things have changed.

  • thisbrucesmith||

    It'll end up like this: if Trump gets funding for the wall, the Dems can have whatever they want. "The Art of the Deal."

  • John||

    Considering that in the past the Republicans got nothing and the Democrats got everythign they wanted, such a result would make Trump the most successful Republican President since Reagan.

  • Rockabilly||

    How about that!

  • JesseAz||

    Well that's completely retarded.

  • James Pollock||

    You voted for him. NOW you notice that his numbers don't add up?

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Newsflash: Nobody is.

  • Tony||

    But it was a real big deal until Jan. 20, 2017, wasn't it.

  • James Pollock||

    "Trump Isn't Serious About Balancing the Budget"

    In other breaking news, water is wet.

  • livelikearefugee||

    Actually, we have two National Socialist parties: one is a little more socialist and the other is a little more nationalist.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    There is one thing that distinguishes Social Security and Medicare from true "entitlement" programs, and that is the fact that these programs are set up to be funded at least in part by payments via deductions from employee paychecks. The programs are in trouble due to mismanagement in Washington, beginning at least with the decision to merge the Social Security trust fund with the General Fund in the early days of the Vietnam War (the reason behind LBJ faking the Gulf of Tonkin "incident"). That, and the fact that both are essentially Ponzi schemes, relying on an ever-increasing employment base to cover the cost of the retiring employees. And while all that justifies excoriating the programs and the politicians who gave them to us (beginning with FDR) it does not justify robbing people of the benefits they have been made to pay for throughout their working lives.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    The SS trust fund has always been merged with the general fund. There is only one treasury. The system operates exactly the way it always has and the trust fund is worth exactly what it has always been worth. Exactly zero. SS is and has always been a paygo scheme. Benefits are paid out of current revenue or debt. Nothing happened during the Viet Nam war or at any point that changed that.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Doesn't matter who's in office. The debt is beyond anyone's ability to control. The empire is on the verge of collapse. Stock up on canned food amunition and propane.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Yup.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Remarkable to get this far down the comments—comments about deficits—without encountering one comment that touches at all on raising revenue. Why is cutting spending the only way to be a deficit hawk?

  • The Knuckle||

    Given that historically gov't can only capture 18-22% of GDP, cutting spending really is the most effective way to control debt. I'd prefer a simpler, even revenue neutral plan with dedicated money going to debt reduction.

  • The Knuckle||

    There is still that sweet spot in the Laffer curve where tax cuts "may" increase revenue, but not universally.

  • CE||

    Every tax cut ever passed has increased government tax revenue. The "sweet spot" is most of the curve.

  • CE||

    Because the government spends way too much already.

  • Moderation4ever||

    Stephen hits on an important point. When Republican candidates will not accept a $10 spending reduction for a $1 dollar tax increase then they are not deficit hawks. What's more the deficit will not get reduced. We are well past the point where spending reduction alone will reduce the deficit. If we can not compromise then worrying about the deficit is futile. I am old and will do fine. I worry about the young people. We saddle them with debt because we want things now and we are not willing to pay for those things.

  • CE||

    And water isn't dry.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Trump Isn't Serious About Balancing the Budget"

    Reason isn't serious about journalism.

    Actual facts. Trump offered a budget with specific cuts. The Swamp blew it off and porked it up, offering Trump a choice of "sign the bill or we cut off spending".

    I wish Trump had accepted the cut off. But he was one of few actually fighting against the Uniparty porkfest.

    End of article:
    " Last year, for example, the Trump administration made specific proposals for cutting food stamps, farm subsidies, and other discretionary programs. Overall, the proposed 2018 budget aimed to reduce federal spending by about 9 percent over 10 years. Overall, the proposed 2018 budget aimed to reduce federal spending by about 9 percent over 10 years.

    The Republican-controlled Congress instead hiked spending by $400 billion. Trump then signed the budget deal."

  • tlapp||

    Fiscal responsibility is a political loser. Nearly half the population wants a more activist government. Politicians play to the fear of change in any attempt to address entitlements no matter how clear the math.

    Entitlements will be addressed one day after economic disaster and not one second sooner.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    When you're doing a worse job than the democrats at balancing the budget you may as well give up the ruse tRump.

  • Sig40||

    It's halfway through his term, and I still don't know whether to laugh or cry when I read headlines like this. As if Trump is actually serious about any of this, other than lining his own pockets. This is nothing more than another TV show for him. The media continues to struggle with how to attempt serious journalism, when covering a a grossly under-qualified anomaly who is incapable of a serious representation of the office he occupies. The headline may as well read, "Clown isn't Serious about Juggling Chainsaws."

  • Cloudbuster||

    Until there are 67 Senators (assuming filibusters) and 218 Representatives serious about balancing the budget, it doesn't matter one damn bit how serious the President is. The President doesn't pass the budget.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Tax cuts are irrelevant, either way. We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.

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