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The rank hypocrisy of Trump’s treatment of the national debt as president

Over the past eight years, President Trump has floated no fewer than 14 proposals for reducing the national debt in interviews and speeches. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)

Exactly eight years to the day before President Trump announced that he would agree to a deal increasing spending and lifting the debt ceiling, Trump decided to highlight President Barack Obama’s budget hypocrisy.

That was what Obama said in 2006, the 2011 version of Trump pointed out — yet here Obama was, overseeing one of the largest expansions of the debt in history! Can you believe it?

In fact, on at least 190 days from 2011 until the 2016 election, Trump complained about the size of the annual deficit or the overall debt, according to a Washington Post analysis of’s archive of Trump comments.

Those comments were clustered: A lot as the 2012 election loomed and Trump was boosting Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy. A lot as the 2016 campaign approached and Trump mentioned the issue frequently to disparage Democratic leadership.

What’s he done since? Well, he’s added to the debt consistently. Granted, the growth of the national debt has been slower under Trump (in both dollars and percentage) than it was under Obama. But then, Obama was also spending federal money to combat the effects of the recession.

If we look at the growth of the debt during the last few years of Obama’s presidency, the picture is different. Over the equivalent time period in Obama’s second term compared with Trump’s current one, the two presidents oversaw an accrual of debt that’s about even.

It’s not just that Trump disparaged the debt when Obama was president. He often did so in ways that hyped his own ability to deal with the problem or disparaged Obama in particularly personal ways. He disparaged Republicans for allowing the debt ceiling to be raised and criticized them for not using the debt ceiling for leverage.

Some examples:

On Monday, Trump agreed to raise the debt limit without “containing” spending.

That, despite having once tweeted this:

He also liked to compare the ballooning debt with Obama’s purported profligacy.

As president, Trump has spent at least $64 million traveling to Mar-a-Lago alone — with debt topping $22 trillion. At another point, he complained about the cost of a $1 million trip taken by Michelle Obama, a figure that’s less than a third of a Mar-a-Lago jaunt.

In an extended tweet, Trump disparaged Obama personally as he mocked the president’s raising of the debt ceiling.

“He is destroying our country: @BarackObama has requested to raise our debt limit to over $16.4Trillion by the end of his first term. @BarackObama himself said he was lazy. For a lazy person he certainly has done a lot of destruction to our country."

He repeatedly pointed out Obama’s apparent hypocrisy in opposing increases in the debt.

Trump has increased it more than $2 trillion in 2½ years.

At one point, he explained to someone on Twitter how long it would take him to fix the debt.

At another point, he said that getting the country out of debt would be “easy.” The day before he announced his candidacy for the presidency, another retweet.

During the debt crisis in Greece, Trump predicted that the United States would be next.

“When you hit $24 trillion, and we’re going to be there very soon, because it’s building up very quickly . . . when we hit that $24 trillion number, we become Greece on steroids,” he said in August 2015. “I mean, we have a lot of problems in this country.”

The United States is on pace to hit $24 trillion by the end of 2020.

During the campaign, he offered a lot of ways in which he would reduce the debt, like growth in the economy or expanded energy production. Needless to say, these plans have either not come to fruition or have not reduced the debt significantly.

In May 2014, Trump disparaged the state of the country in terms that would probably have inspired fury if said now by a Democrat in Congress.

Included in his complaints? The debt, then about $5 trillion less than it is now.

At other points, Trump used various statistics to demonstrate just how badly Obama was managing the debt. Given that the debt grew substantially during Obama’s first years in office, Trump generally compares favorably with Obama on these metrics — but in each case, the situation has nonetheless gotten worse, not better.

Based on a figure of 140.9 million taxpayers (what it was in 2016), the debt has increased by $14,700 per taxpayer under Trump.

It’s now about $174,000 per household, up 10.4 percent.

Trump has been president for about 1.03 percent of our history (using the signing of the Declaration of Independence as a start date) and has accrued 9.4 percent of the total debt.

The figure cited in that article for the total debt accrued by the start of World War II is about $91 billion. There have been four days during Trump’s presidency — Sept. 8, 2017; Oct. 2, 2017; Feb. 9, 2018; and Dec. 31, 2018 — when the debt has increased by more than that amount. Generally, this was a function of the debt limit being increased after a debate on Capitol Hill.

At a campaign event in 2016, Trump announced that “the new debt added under Obama and Clinton would have been enough to pay off all the outstanding student loans in the United States 6 times over.” Since he’s taken office, the increase has been enough to pay off all student debt 1.3 times over.

Then there’s this one.

Under Trump, it’s never been under that figure.

There are any number of experiments that would be interesting to conduct if one had access to a portal into alternate dimensions. One would be to see how Trump would have responded on Twitter if the United States had elected a Democrat in 2016 and that person had performed in precisely the same way that Trump has as president.

My guess is that he would not be thrilled.