For the vast majority of Republicans, a president who doesn’t care about the ballooning national debt is in stark contrast with one of the main principles the party has pushed for decades.
But does Donald Trump care about the debt? According to recent reports, he does not.
Aides and advisers have tried convincing him how important managing the debt is, but those words have allegedly fallen on deaf ears.
Per The Daily Beast:
Sources close to the president say he has repeatedly shrugged it off, implying that he doesn’t have to worry about the money owed to America’s creditors—currently about $21 trillion — because he won’t be around to shoulder the blame when it becomes even more untenable.
The friction came to a head in early 2017 when senior officials offered Trump charts and graphics laying out the numbers and showing a “hockey stick” spike in the national debt in the not-too-distant future. In response, Trump noted that the data suggested the debt would reach a critical mass only after his possible second term in office.
“Yeah, but I won’t be here,” the president bluntly said, according to a source who was in the room when Trump made this comment during discussions on the debt.
The episode illustrates the extent of the president’s ambivalence toward tackling an issue that has previously animated the Republican Party from the days of Ronald Reagan to the presidency of Barack Obama.
Another report by the Washington Post says Trump is demanding top advisers come up with a plan to reduce the ballooning national debt, but he himself is repeatedly seeking new spending.
Trump’s deficit-reduction directive came last month, after the White House reported a large increase in the deficit for the previous 12 months. The announcement unnerved Republicans and investors, helping fuel a big sell-off in the stock market. Two days after the deficit report, Trump floated a surprise demand to his Cabinet secretaries, asking them to identify steep cuts in their agencies.
While some are calling for cuts to so-called “entitlements” like Social Security and Medicare, Trump has so far been opposed to such measures.
In total, government debt has risen roughly $2 trillion since Trump took office, and the federal government now owes $21.7 trillion, according to the Treasury Department. The president’s agenda has contributed to that increase and is projected to continue to do so, both through the GOP tax cut and with bipartisan spending increases.
And Trump’s recent interest in the issue is at odds with his long-standing previous indifference, according to current and former aides.
When former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn’s staffers prepared a presentation for Trump about deficits, Cohn told them no. It wouldn’t be necessary, he said, because the president did not care about deficits, according to current and former officials.
So the WaPo story is generally in line with The Daily Beast in that Trump — in the past — has not much cared to even discuss the deficit.
But part of the reason Trump hasn’t been so concerned with the debt is because he thinks strong economic policies will solve the debt crisis through means other than tax hikes, sharp cuts to spending and popular entitlement programs.
Stephen Moore, a conservative economist at the Heritage Foundation and an economic adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, recalled making visual presentations to Trump in mid-2016 that showed him the severity of the debt problem. But Moore told The Daily Beast that he personally assured candidate Trump that it could be dealt with by focusing on economic growth.
“That was why, when he was confronted with these nightmare scenarios on the debt, I think he rejected them, because if you grow the economy… you don’t have a debt problem,” Moore continued. “I know a few times when people would bring up the enormous debt, he would say, ‘We’re gonna grow our way out of it.’”
But ultimately, a senior White House official says, Trump isn’t concerned with the debt but rather the optics of the situation.
“He understands the messaging of it,” the former senior White House official told The Daily Beast. “But he isn’t a doctrinaire conservative who deeply cares about the national debt, especially not on his watch… It’s not actually a top priority for him… He understands the political nature of the debt but it’s clearly not, frankly, something he sees as crucial to his legacy.”
“It’s not like it’s going to haunt him.”
Editor’s note: Generally when an economy is down, we borrow. When the economy is booming, as it is now, we pay the down the debt. The current environment is unique in that the economy is strong but instead of paying down the deficit, it is growing. Are you concerned about the national deficit and increased spending under Trump, or are you more in line with his thinking in that strong economic policies will help curtail the debt in the long run? Were you concerned about the debt in the past but aren’t now, and what has changed your thinking?