So no one should be surprised to learn this, from the latest Treasury Department data:
The U.S. budget deficit through the first three months of this budget year is up 11.8% from the same period a year ago, putting the country on track to record its first $1 trillion deficit in eight years.
So what if we just did away with our double standard and stopped asking both Democrats and Republicans about the deficit? Just to be fair.
We should note that the last time the deficit was more than $1 trillion was 2012, when the country was still climbing out of the Great Recession. Deficits always increase during recessions, because of the combination of a drop in tax revenues and the need for fiscal stimulus to keep the recession from getting even worse. But Trump’s combination of enormous tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations and increased spending has caused a dramatic increase even though the economy is healthy.
The real problem with Trump’s fiscal stewardship (if you can call it that) isn’t that he’s increasing the deficit, it’s that we aren’t getting much for it: no infrastructure, no improved health, nothing that will constitute a good investment that yields dividends for years to come. A bunch of corporations are padding their bottom lines, which is good for wealthy shareholders. And the military spending is good for the defense industry. But we’re not getting nearly the long-term returns from spending that we could if we invested in some of the things Democrats are asking for.
And as The Post’s Heather Long reports, economists are beginning to alter their views about the danger of deficits:
“Even under current conditions, I think we can afford to increase federal spending or cut taxes to stimulate the economy if there’s a downturn,” said Janet Yellen, the former Fed chief who is the incoming president of the American Economic Association. “Chronic low interest rates create additional fiscal space.”Yellen’s remarks are part of a growing chorus of prominent economists who are building the intellectual case for the United States to take on a bit more debt. They are not saying that politicians have a blank check to spend more or that higher debt doesn’t have any negative consequences. The money still has to be paid back at some point — with interest.But the consensus view is shifting among economists from a belief the debt harms the economy to a belief that responsible borrowing is warranted.
Because there’s a Republican in the White House, fear-mongering over the deficit has quieted to a whisper, though there are still entire organizations in Washington dedicated to convincing people that if we don’t immediately impose austerity programs then we’re headed for our doom.
But if it’s becoming more accepted that 1) Republicans don’t care about deficits and never did; they merely use the specter of debt as a weapon to keep Democrats from spending money on programs that will be popular, and 2) deficits aren’t as much of a problem as we’ve been led to believe, then how about we change the way we talk about those programs Democrats advocate?
I’m not saying we should never discuss how much something such as universal health care or a Green New Deal will cost. But at the moment, those kinds of proposals are inevitably greeted with “How are you going to pay for it? Are you going to raise taxes? Are you? Are you? Answer the question!!!”
Meanwhile, a Republican can say, “My tax cut for yachts and private jets will pay for itself because rich people belch fairy dust that turns into gold,” and that will be presented as a legitimate position to take (“though Democrats express skepticism…”).
The result of deficit fear-mongering is that a huge amount of the discussion of Democratic proposals is taken up by discussions of cost, which crowds out discussion of whether we want to do the thing the proposal is supposed to do, and if this is a good way to do it.
I don’t have a lot of faith that anyone can be persuaded to stop asking Democrats how much every proposal they make will cost and whether they’ll have to raise taxes to pay for it (especially since Democrats inevitably say exactly how they’ll do so, reinforcing the expectation that they alone should have this demanded of them). But perhaps they should take a cue from Republicans, who blithely insist that every new tax cut will pay for itself with an explosion of economic growth.
Democrats should just start saying the same thing about all their proposals. Universal pre-K? Don’t worry about how much it costs; it’s going to pay for itself. National health care? Oh, that’ll pay for itself. Forgiving all student debt? Yep, it’ll pay for itself.
As Republicans have shown, what matters isn’t whether it’s true, it’s whether you say it with confidence. Do that, and eventually people will stop asking.