If it is true that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently told President Trump that no politician has ever lost an election for spending more money, it is game, set and match for any hope of fiscal restraint in Washington.
This really is no surprise. Excessive federal spending, if you describe it as spending significantly more money than is produced by tax revenues, has been going on since the 1960s, with only a couple of brief interruptions.
Democrats long ago gave up any pretense of controlling government spending, preferring instead to raise taxes in the hope of balancing the budget. Republicans used to be credible on the issue, but now only object to overspending when a Democrat is president. With a Republican president, deficits are an investment in America’s future, or something like that.
President Trump, for all his tweets and 2016 bluster about how easy it would be to balance the budget, is a big spender at heart. During his business career, after all, he liked to call himself the “king of debt,” and he was indeed royalty, to the point that he had to seek bankruptcy protection several times. His new job is no different, except that the spending figures for which he is ultimately responsible now have a few more zeroes on them.
It was only a few years ago, when the country was coming out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, that the talking heads, typically on the Republican side, proclaimed the death of the country because President Obama ran up a $1 trillion budget deficit.
In fairness to Obama, the economy improved, tax revenues increased and the deficits got smaller in his second term. But overspending by only $600 billion a year is far from an impressive achievement.
Comparatively, $600 billion doesn’t look so bad today, and that’s the dark humor of the budget agreement in Washington. The deal will increase federal spending by up to $320 billion. Even better for the political class, it suspends the federal debt ceiling for two years. Congress and the president won’t have to worry about the restraint of a debt ceiling until after the 2020 election.
Almost everybody got something. Trump got more money for defense — because spending more than $700 billion on the military simply wasn’t enough. Democrats, who favor more money for domestic programs, got that. Republicans got rid of the “sequestration” spending cap, which they loved when Obama was in office. The only ones left out are Republican budget hawks, who will not be able to kill the spending bill.
The extra spending is disappointing. But the knowledge that nobody in charge cares about discipline is the worst part of this agreement.