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The U.S. is on track for the longest expansion ever, but it’s coming at a cost

President Trump talks with auto industry leaders at an event in Michigan in March 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters).

The vast majority of economists predict this expansion will break the record for the longest one. There are few signs of a recession coming soon, and the GOP tax cuts and additional infusion of government spending approved by both parties are expected to cause growth to pick up in coming months.

Goldman Sachs says there's a 90 percent chance this expansion will break the prior record set during the 1990s tech boom when the economy grew uninterrupted for a decade. Of course, nothing is certain with the economy, but if the current expansion lasts past July 2019, it would become the longest.

Right now, the Blue Chip consensus of over 50 top economic forecasters anticipates solid growth of 2.8 percent this year and 2.6 percent the following year. No one in the group is anticipating a recession, although they note a full blown trade war between the U.S. and China could alter the predictions and counteract much, if not all, of Trump's tax-rate reductions.

“It will be the longest expansion ever,” predicted Allen Sinai, chief economist at Decision Economics. “I don’t even think an attempt at impeachment would stop the underlying fundamentals of the U.S. and non-U.S. economies of giving us good results.”

In an attempt to boost growth, Trump passed massive tax cuts, scaled back regulations and boosted government spending in his first year in office. The result is a large-scale stimulus that appears to be causing growth to rise but at a cost: Trump has also triggered an unprecedented expansion of the federal deficit.

“The U.S. economy is projected to grow considerably faster than potential for a few years,” the International Monetary Fund wrote in its World Economic Outlook released Tuesday. But “the U.S. tax reform will reduce growth momentum starting in 2020.”

The IMF predicts U.S. growth will hit 2.9 percent this year and 2.7 percent in 2019, a level of growth that hasn't been achieved since 2006. But the IMF also predicts the United States will be the only advanced economy in the world to have its debt-to-GDP ratio get worse in the next five years as the government budgets become even more unbalanced, adding to the debt.

“Given the increased fiscal deficit, which will require adjustment down the road, and the temporary nature of some [tax] provisions, growth is expected to be lower than in previous forecasts for a few years from 2022 onward, offsetting some of the earlier growth gains,” the IMF warned Tuesday.

The current expansion, which hasn't necessarily felt record-breaking for many Americans, has been a long but slow recovery from the Great Recession and financial crisis that struck a decade ago. Growth has averaged about 2 percent a year, far slower than the 3.6 percent annual average during the 1990s expansion, and wages have grown well below the usual pace in good economic times.

Trump called growth during President Barack Obama's tenure weak and insisted he could make it better, while Democrats counter that Obama had the tough task of lifting the nation out of a particularly deep crisis that saw unemployment hit the worst level in a quarter century.

The consensus among the world's top economic forecasters is that the United States is in for good times through 2019 or even 2020, but that will probably be followed by an economic hangover of sorts. Not only is growth expected to slow, but it could end up being weaker than it would have been without all the stimulus because the U.S. government will have a harder time spending any more money to try to aid the economy, and the large debt that already exists will cause investors to buy U.S. Treasurys instead of investing in the private sector where it would be more likely to boost growth.

“There's less reason to behave like it's 'morning in America' than 'happy hour in America,'” wrote Morgan Stanley in a research paper released Tuesday. “The feel-good aspects of [fiscal stimulus] appear at or nearly in the price of U.S. markets, whereas the downsides are less accounted for.”

Debt held by the public is on track to climb over $4 trillion during Trump's first term, according to the latest projections from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, largely because of the tax bill and additional federal spending. Under Obama, debt held by the public rose more than $7 trillion, largely due to additional government spending to try to get growth and hiring going again after the recession.

Trump administration officials say that the experts are wrong and that faster growth will cause American families and businesses to spend and invest even more, which in turn will propel more growth and prosperity. It's a so-called supply side view that tax cuts for businesses and wealthier individuals drive more investment and spending, which then drives even more growth and productivity.

“We’re in early stages of an economic boom here in the United States,” Larry Kudlow, Trump's top economic adviser, told reporters Tuesday.

While many economists agree with the administration that the short-term picture looks promising, they don't believe it will last beyond a few years. CBO anticipates growth slipping back to 1.8 percent by 2020, while the Federal Reserve forecasts 2 percent by 2020.

There's growing concern that wages and inflation are rising, partly because of the good economy and partly because of the stimulus causing even hotter growth, and that will end up causing problems for the economy in the coming years as the Fed has to react with higher interest rates.

“Interest costs are going to rise. Wage growing is going to pick up and inflation is moving higher. Combine that with decelerating growth and it's not a pretty picture,” said Robert Baur, chief global economist at Principal Global Investors.

But the deeper problem may be a prevailing view that while the economy is better, this is as good as it gets. When people have the mentality that the good times won't last for long, they might be less inclined to spend after all.

Read more:

Why America's return to $1 trillion deficits is a problem for you

'Never believe the CBO,' says Trump's top economic adviser

How Congress' and Trump's latest deficit binge paved the way for the next one