Something happened between about Nov. 8, 2016, and about Jan. 20, 2017, that made Donald Trump suddenly far less concerned about the size of the federal debt. What that thing might be isn’t clear.
But we know from his comments on Twitter and the campaign trail that, at one point, an increase in the debt was a sign of the failure of the administration of Barack Obama.
And we know from a new report released by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Monday that, under President Trump, the federal debt is expected to grow at a clip that will easily match Obama — despite there not being a financial crisis to which the government is responding.
Not that this is new, of course. It’s been clear since early in his administration that Trump is comfortable with running the government at a significant annual deficit. What’s new is the scale of the anticipated debt, particularly given that the administration had argued that the tax cuts passed in December would stimulate the economy enough to offset the loss in tax revenue. The CBO says now — as it said then — that this won’t happen.
Instead, the federal debt held by the public (a subset of the total debt) will be almost twice what it was in 2016.
That’s because the government will start running trillion-dollar-a-year deficits in 2020. (The deficit is how much the government over- or underspends each year; when it overspends, which is basically always, the overall debt increases.) The deficit soared in the wake of the recession but during the tail end of the Obama administration began to shrink as a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product. That will continue to increase and then hold above 4 percent.
When the debt was a favorite target of Republican politicians in the wake of that spike in government spending after the recession, a common rhetorical tactic used to explain its size was to divvy it up among every American. So let’s do that.
Between now and 2028, the population will also grow to more than 350 million people.
Meaning that, by 2028, paying off the total public debt would require paying more than $80,000 for every resident of the United States. In 2017, that figure was about $45,000.
This isn’t really how debt works, of course, and the government has the ability to carry debt in a way that your average household doesn’t. But it’s nonetheless remarkable to consider how sharply the debt is expected to grow. When Trump last month declared that trillion-dollar sums were basically unheard of a decade ago (which isn’t true), we looked at how quickly the overall federal debt had added another trillion dollars.
The second-fastest trillion to be added came under President Trump.
The good news for Trump? Americans generally aren’t that concerned about the debt, especially in recent years. But, then, that concern could grow, too.