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Federal borrowing soars in the early months of 2018

$488 billion in three months is a lot of borrowing for a Republican-led government that promised smaller deficits and a commitment to balancing the budget.
A twenty dollar bill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)
A twenty dollar bill.

In Barack Obama's second term as president, as the economy grew and the unemployment rate dropped, the federal budget deficit shrunk at an extraordinary pace. In the Democrat's first year in the White House, the annual budget shortfall was nearly $1.4 trillion. By 2014, the deficit was nearly $1 trillion smaller, at around $484 billion. By 2015, it was a little smaller still.

I mention this to provide some context to yesterday's news. The United States borrowed more in the first three months of 2018 than it did in the entire fiscal years of 2014 and 2015. USA Today  reported:

The Treasury Department announced Monday that the government borrowed a record $488 billion in the January-March quarter, but officials expect borrowing needs will decline sharply for the current April-June quarter.Treasury said that actual borrowing in the first quarter exceeded the old record of $483 billion set in the first quarter of 2010, a period when the country was struggling to pull out of a deep recession and prop up the financial system following the 2008 financial crisis.

In fairness, quarterly borrowing can vary quite a bit, so we can't necessarily extrapolate, estimating the annual deficit from the first quarter alone.

Still, $488 billion in three months is a lot of borrowing for a Republican-led government that promised voters fiscal responsibility, smaller deficits, and a commitment to balancing the budget.

Indeed, throughout the debate over the GOP tax plan, Republicans swore up and down that the tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations would pay for themselves. Five months later, I have a follow-up question for these officials: Care to revise your promise?

Meanwhile, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal  poll published two weeks ago found that a plurality of Americans believe Republicans are better than Democrats at reducing the deficit.

For the record, I'm not a deficit hawk and don't see this as a major policy priority, but it nevertheless amazes me how wrong much of the public is on the issue. Over the course of the last few decades, the deficit has gotten bigger under every Republican president, and the deficit has gotten smaller under every Democratic president.

Old branding dies hard.