As bud­get deficit bal­loons, few in DC seem to care

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY AN­DREW TAY­LOR As­so­ci­ated Press

The fed­eral bud­get deficit is bal­loon­ing on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s watch and few in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., seem to care.

And even if they did, the po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics that en­abled bi­par­ti­san deficit­cut­ting deals decades ago have dis­ap­peared, re­placed by bit­ter par­ti­san­ship and chronic dys­func­tion.

That’s the re­al­ity that will greet Trump’s lat­est bud­get, which will promptly be shelved after land­ing with a thud on Mon­day. Like pre­vi­ous spend­ing blue­prints, Trump’s plan for the 2020 bud­get year will pro­pose cuts to many do­mes­tic pro­grams fa­vored by law­mak­ers in both par­ties but leave alone po­lit­i­cally pop­u­lar re­tire­ment pro­grams such as Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity.

Wash­ing­ton prob­a­bly with de­vote months wrestling over eras­ing the last rem­nants of a failed 2011 bud­get deal that would oth­er­wise cut core Pen­tagon op­er­a­tions by $ 71 bil­lion and do­mes­tic agen­cies and for­eign aid by $55 bil­lion. Top law­mak­ers are push­ing for a reprise of three prior deals to use spend­ing cuts or new rev­enues and prop up ad­di­tional spend­ing rather than de­fray deficits that are again ap­proach­ing $1 tril­lion.

It’s put deficit hawks in a gloomy mood.

“The pres­i­dent doesn’t care. The lead­er­ship of the Demo­cratic Party doesn’t care,” said for­mer Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. “And so­cial me­dia is in stam­pede mode.”

Trump’s bud­get ar­rives as the lat­est Trea­sury De­part­ment fig­ures show a 77 per­cent spike in the deficit over the first four months of the bud­get year, driv­ing by fall­ing rev­enues and steady growth in spend­ing.

Trump’s 2017 tax cut bears much of the blame, along with sharp in­creases in spend­ing for both the Pen­tagon and do­mes­tic agen­cies and the grow­ing fed­eral re­tire­ment costs of the baby boom gen­er­a­tion. Promises that the tax cut would stir so much eco­nomic growth that it would mostly pay for it­self have been proved woe­fully wrong.

Trump’s up­com­ing bud­get, how­ever, won’t ad­dress any of the main fac­tors be­hind the grow­ing, in­tractable deficits that have driven the U.S. debt above $22 tril­lion. Its most strik­ing pro­posed cuts – to do­mes­tic agency op­er­a­tions – were re­jected when tea party Repub­li­cans con­trolled the House, and they face equally grim prospects now that Democrats are in the ma­jor­ity.

Trump has given no in­di­ca­tion he’s much in­ter­ested in the deficit and he’s re­jected any idea of curb­ing Medi­care or So­cial Se­cu­rity, the mas­sive fed­eral re­tire­ment pro­grams whose im­bal­ances are the chief deficit driv­ers.

An ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said Fri­day that the pres­i­dent’s plan promises to bal­ance the bud­get in 15 years. The of­fi­cial was not au­tho­rized to pub­licly dis­cuss specifics about the bud­get be­fore the doc­u­ment’s of­fi­cial re­lease and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity

Democrats have wit­nessed the re­tire­ment of a gen­er­a­tion of law­mak­ers who came up in the 1980s and 1990s and ne­go­ti­ated deficit-cut­ting deals in 1990 and 1993. But those agree­ments came at sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal cost to both Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, who lost re­elec­tion, and Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, whose party lost con­trol of Congress in 1995.

But the mod­er­ate wing of the Demo­cratic Party has with­ered with the elec­toral wipe­out of “Blue Dog” Democrats at the hands of tea party forces over re­cent elec­tion cy­cles.

“Con­cern about the deficit is so woe­fully out of fash­ion that it’s hard to even imag­ine it com­ing back into fash­ion,” said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., one of his party’s few re­main­ing deficit hawks. “This is as out of fash­ion as bell bot­toms.”

While in con­trol of the House, Repub­li­cans used to gen­er­ate non­bind­ing bud­get blue­prints that promised to bal­ance the fed­eral ledger by re­ly­ing on a con­tro­ver­sial plan to even­tu­ally trans­form Medi­care into a voucher­like pro­gram. But they never pur­sued fol­low-up leg­is­la­tion that would ac­tu­ally do it.

Repub­li­cans, who seized Congress more than two decades ago promis­ing and ul­ti­mately achiev­ing bal­anced bud­gets dur­ing the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, have in­stead fo­cused on two ma­jor rounds of tax cuts dur­ing the Trump era and the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2001.

Nor are Repub­li­cans will­ing to con­sider tough deficit-cut­ting steps such as higher taxes or Pen­tagon bud­get cuts. Lead­ing Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial con­tenders talk of “Medi­care for All” and in­creas­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits in­stead of curb­ing them.

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