The two years in the past decade when Donald Trump spoke the most about the federal deficit shared a common characteristic: Each was a presidential election year.
On 51 days in 2012, for example, Trump raised the issue of the federal budget deficit or the cumulative debt the country faced. It was a common point of attack against President Barack Obama, then running for reelection. The recession that had ended a few years prior prompted the government to start spending heavily, driving up annual deficits over $1 trillion. For small-government Republicans and those who played the role on cable news and on Twitter, it was an easy ding on the incumbent Democrat.
Right after Election Day, though, Trump stopped mentioning the issue. For the next two years, he mentioned it on 22 days only. Once he announced his presidential candidacy in June 2015, though, it returned to the front burner. Between then and the 2016 election, Trump raised the subject on 93 more days. As voting approached, Trump would often mention the deficit day after day after day.
On the day that President Trump took office, the federal debt stood at $19.8 trillion. As of last Friday, it was at $23.2 trillion, an increase of 17 percent. The country has added a bit under $3.4 trillion in debt since the 2016 election, just shy of the $3.5 trillion added during the entirety of Obama’s second term.
The country has seen seven of the 10 sharpest monthly increases in the federal deficit since the beginning of 2018. Under both George W. Bush and Obama, recessions — and spikes in the deficit — were followed by slow improvements. Under Trump, deficit growth has accelerated, even without a recession.
To date, three-quarters of the months of Trump’s presidency have seen spending outpace receipts. That’s the highest percentage since Obama’s first term in office and the wake of the recession.
So far in fiscal year 2020 (which began on Oct. 1, 2019), the deficit is higher than in the first three months of any fiscal year since 2011. In the calendar year 2019, the total deficit exceeded $1 trillion for only the fifth time in history. The other four times were all in the immediate wake of the recession — and prompted Trump’s complaints about Obama’s profligate spending.
That so many of the months with the largest deficits occurred since January 2018 shouldn’t come as a surprise. In December 2017, Trump signed into law a massive package of tax cuts heavily distributed to wealthier Americans and corporations.
In the four quarters of 2017, the government took in just over $1 trillion in corporate taxes. In the four quarters of 2018, it took in $589 billion. In the first three quarters of 2019, $412 billion.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates laws signed by Trump will alone have added $4.7 trillion to the budget over the next decade.
Of course, it’s now an election year. While Trump’s administration certainly shows few signs of concern about the increase in the deficit or the debt — a position, mind you, with which few Democrats will exhibit much concern — he does have a recent history of suddenly elevating the debt as an issue once voters head to the polls.
Tweets like this one applied to the current president, however, might ring a little hollow.
Trump has been president for 1.2 percent of America’s history and has amassed 13.9 percent of the total debt — without a recession driving spending.