As deficits soar, Trump asks, 'Who the hell cares about the budget?'

If Republicans are now of the opinion that budgets, deficits, and spending levels are annoying trivialities, best ignored, maybe that's a good thing.
Twenty Dollar Bills Are Printed At The Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Treasury Secretary's Timothy Geithner's signature can be seen on a new twenty dollar bill, at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on July 22, 2011 in Washington, DC.Mark Wilson / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump delivered remarks at a private dinner with wealthy donors Friday night at Mar-a-Lago, and as the Washington Post reported, the president shared some thoughts about the nation's finances.

To those who criticized his spending and the growing national debt, Trump said: "Who the hell cares about the budget? We're going to have a country."

For most of President Barack Obama's time in office, Republicans seemed to care very much about the budget, making fears around the national debt and deficit their top talking point. They've backed off those concerns under Trump.

The Republican's comments came just four days after the Trump administration reported that the annual budget deficit surpassed $1 trillion in 2019, despite the growing economy, and despite the fact that Trump promised voters he'd produce the opposite results.

Trump has now added $2.6 trillion to the national debt in just three years -- more than Obama added to the debt in his entire second term.

It's against this backdrop that the current president has chosen ... indifference. And though I'm generally loath to agree with Trump, his blunt rhetorical question -- "Who the hell cares about the budget?" -- may have some merit.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, it wasn't long ago that Republicans were hair-on-fire obsessed with the deficit and the nation's multi-trillion-dollar debt. Though the purpose of the Tea Party "movement" was always a bit murky, it was ostensibly about the right's overwhelming anxiety about the United States' fiscal imbalance.

The irony of these Republicans' concerns went largely overlooked. After all, as a percentage of the economy, Ronald Reagan was responsible for some of the largest deficits in American history. After the deficit disappeared entirely under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush added trillions to the debt.

It was in 2003 when then-Vice President Dick Cheney declared that "deficits don't matter."

After deficits again grew smaller during a Democratic administration -- the deficit shrank by $1 trillion over Obama's first seven years in office -- Trump took office and the budget imbalance quickly began growing once again.

About a year ago at this time, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney -- the far-right budget chief who got involved in politics because he was determined to help balance the federal budget -- told a group of Republicans that "nobody cares" about the issue anymore. His boss echoed the sentiment on Friday night.

And perhaps that's a good thing. Many of the leading Democratic presidential candidates have ambitious progressive agendas, which include proposals that aren't cheap. If Republicans are now of the opinion that budgets, deficits, and spending levels are annoying trivialities, best ignored, the debate over these proposals can focus more on their efficacy, and less on their price tags.

Except, of course, it's a safe bet that the GOP will do what it always does when there's a Democrat in the White House: Republicans will magically rediscover their deep and abiding fears about the scourge of deficits. The same partisans who shrugged their shoulders after learning of Trump's comments on Friday night will pretend that annual budget shortfalls tear at the fabric of society and impose unforgivable burdens on future generations.

Can we all agree in advance that their rhetoric will deserve to be laughed at?

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