Washington will never take debt seriously

Monday, to the apparent notice of no one, congressional leaders and the president came together and agreed to something: spending a lot more money, and putting it on the credit card. Again.

The agreement, which was negotiated between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House led by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, forestalls any debt ceiling showdown for two years, while raising spending by roughly $320 billion.

Congress reached a budget agreement, that will increase federal spending, on Monday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

For anyone keeping track, the federal deficit for the fiscal year we are currently in is on track to come close to $1 trillion for the year.

This is a shocking, sad, and frankly pathetic reality, and absolutely no one is even bothering to pretend to take it seriously.

President Donald Trump, for instance, signed a $1.3 trillion spending package in March of last year. Upon signing it, he cited a concern for programs that he considered a “waste of money,” and boldly stated that he would “never sign another bill like this again.” Trillion-dollar deficits and out-of-control spending growth is not only another bill like that, but it is worse.

The Republicans in Congress should be even more ashamed of themselves. The Republican Party platform, passed in 2016, contains a savage condemnation of Barack Obama’s management of the national debt. The huge increase in the national debt in his time “has placed a significant burden on future generations,” it read. “We must impose firm caps on future debt, accelerate the repayment of the trillions we now owe in order to reaffirm our principles of responsible and limited government, and remove the burdens we are placing on future generations.”

Tough talk. Talk was even tougher when it was campaign time, particularly in years like 2010 and 2014. Back then, you heard the channeled rage of irate politicians projecting their playacted disgust with spending and debt amid promises to do something about it.

And the promises worked. In 2010 the Republicans gained a historic 63 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and six seats in the U.S. Senate. In 2014, the Republicans gained 13 more House seats, and an incredible nine seats in the Senate, allowing them to finally take over both chambers.

So what did they do after getting elected, having promised to lead the fight against spending and debt? They spent more money, and incurred more debt. The day the new Republican House took over in 2011 our national debt stood at roughly $14 trillion. When Paul Ryan handed the gavel over to Pelosi eight years later, that debt was $21.9 trillion.

You can make whatever excuses you want. You can say that they had a Democratic president for much of that time. They didn’t always have the Senate. Use whatever excuse makes you feel comfortable. The fact is that the Republicans — at least at the federal level — have proven time and again that while they are marginally better than Democrats, they are simply not credible on debt, deficits and spending.

And make no mistake, this is a spending problem. You can complain all you want about the supposed impact of the tax reform law if you want, but that can’t change the fact that we are going to collect significantly more money this year than last year, and collected more last year than the year prior. We have plenty of revenue.

Indeed, during the Obama budgets (2010 through 2017) revenues increased by roughly $1.16 trillion, or about $145 billion per year. Most of that average was built on the earlier years when revenues were recovering from historic lows, and in his last three budget cycles, after the recovery was well in hand, revenue was growing by roughly $20-50 billion a year.

The projections for this year show increased revenue of about $110 billion over the prior year. Maybe you (wrongly) think that it would have grown by $200 billion or even $300 billion if the tax cut had never happened.

That still doesn’t account for $320 billion in new spending, or the nearly $1 trillion deficit. If taxes had stayed the same, you wouldn’t even have come close to having the money you need to pay your bills.

Which brings us all the way back to the point. Washington doesn’t just have a spending problem, it has a spending crisis. The president isn’t taking it seriously, the Republicans in Congress aren’t taking it seriously, and the party that proposes $32 trillion spending binges on “Medicare for all” as well as free college, debt cancellation, and every spending project imaginable is so far divorced from reality that they don’t even know there is an “it” to take seriously in the first place.

So what is a responsible, reasonable, concerned person left to do but wait for the coming fiscal reckoning, whenever it may arrive?

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.