During a brief White House Q&A yesterday, a reporter asked Donald Trump about the ongoing talks on raising the debt ceiling ahead of its looming deadline. “We’re working on the debt ceiling,” the president replied.
Asked if the negotiations are near an agreement, Trump ignored the question and started whining anew about Barack Obama.
“Don’t forget, you know, the debt under President Obama added more debt than every president put together. So you’re talking about a debt ceiling: President Obama added $10 trillion during his eight years. He doubled the debt. He added more debt than every president – every single President put together. President Obama doubled – more than doubled the debt.
“So we’re talking about a debt ceiling. The previous president doubled the debt. And that’s what we get stuck with. That’s the way it is, folks.”
It was an interesting peek into Trump’s mind. He heard a question about the debt ceiling, which apparently led him to think about the debt, which then apparently led him to seize a perceived opportunity to complain once again about his immediate predecessor.
Also note how the Republican takes a couple of sentences and repeats them over and over again, as if that helps. The above transcript excerpt may look like a copy-and-paste error, but he really did repeat himself over the course of several seconds.
The fact that Trump’s underlying claim is wildly misleading doesn’t help matters.
But even if we put aside these relevant details, we’re left with an awkward question: does the president know what the debt ceiling is?
Because cumulative deficits from the Obama era, whether one sees them as problematic or not, have no meaningful relevance to the raising the nation’s borrowing limit now. The necessary increase to the debt ceiling is about paying for current spending – and avoiding default – not addressing previous deficits.
Complicating matters, of course, is that Trump is in no position to whine on this subject. As Paul Krugman explained in his new column, “[T]he Trump tax cut caused a huge rise in the budget deficit, which the administration expects to hit $1 trillion this year, up from less than $600 billion in 2016. This tidal wave of red ink is even more extraordinary than it looks, because it has taken place despite falling unemployment, which usually leads to a falling deficit.”
And yet, here we are. Perhaps a chart will help drive the point home.
This image, which relies on Congressional Budget Office data, shows annual budget deficits since the Reagan era. Red columns point to Republican administrations, blue columns point to Democratic administrations, and red-and-blue columns point to years in which the fiscal year was split between presidents from two different parties.
Pay particular attention to the right side of the image. Those shrinking blue columns? Those are the deficits in the Obama era. The growing red columns? Those are the deficits in the Trump era. (The $1 trillion deficit for this year is based on the latest White House projections, which may yet change.)
As Catherine Rampbell recently added, “Federal deficits have widened immensely under Trump’s leadership. This is striking not only because he promised fiscal responsibility – at one time even pledging to eliminate the national debt within eight years – but also because it’s a historical anomaly…. Trump’s own policies are to blame for this aberration.”
The president yesterday suggested he got “stuck with” a poor fiscal hand, bequeathed by Obama. But that’s ridiculous: Obama’s the one who dramatically shrank the deficits he inherited from the Bush/Cheney administration, while Trump is the one who’s making the deficits dramatically larger now.