The Hollywood Reporter is out with a new profile of President-elect Donald Trump's chief White House strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, and it features plenty of colorful quotes.
One quote, in particular, sticks out. And it's liable to make House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) choke on his cheese curds:
“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” [Bannon] says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”
That $1 trillion price tag on Bannon's infrastructure plan isn't exactly news; when CNBC hosts threw out the number $500 billion during an August interview, Trump said, “You need a lot more than that to do it right.” And he said in his most recent book that infrastructure problems require “a trillion-dollar rebuilding program.”
Trump has also echoed Bannon's rhetoric about borrowing extensively to make it happen. He said in that CNBC interview: “The interest rates are so low, I mean, the numbers are so low, that yes this is a time to borrow and borrow long-term. So that we have the money and rebuild our infrastructure.” And top Trump economic adviser Tom Barrack has suggested this borrowing could add $10 trillion to the current $19 trillion national debt.
As I've noted before, Trump is not a small-government Republican. He's shown a real willingness to spend heavily to Make America Great Again — deficits and national debt be damned.
But Bannon's quote really drives that home. While Trump's policy proposals have been known to oscillate depending on the day and his audience, this appears to be part of Bannon's grand vision for a Trump presidency. Bannon will be driving the bus.
And not only does he talk about spending $1 trillion on infrastructure and borrowing extensively, he's also comparing what they're planning to do to the New Deal, which expanded the role of government in American life greatly. And he says “conservatives are going to go crazy.”
One of the more undersold questions of the new Trump presidency is precisely how much Ryan and other fiscal conservatives are going to go along with Trump's agenda if he does push for massive spending packages that aren't paid for — because the scope of what Trump's talking about, despite his protesting to the controversy, can't merely be offset by cutting “waste, fraud and abuse.” It will mean trillions in new debt.
We pretty much know that Democrats are going to stand in the way of whatever Trump puts forward. But when it comes to things like massive infrastructure spending (that is nearly four times what Hillary Clinton was proposing, by the way), it's much easier to see Trump forging an alliance with them than getting fiscally conservative deficit hawks to come on board.
Many of the congressional Republicans have been resolute when it comes to making sure President Obama's legislative priorities are paid for. If they take the same approach to Trump's presidency, there could be plenty of clashes ahead.