As a candidate, Donald Trump said he could eliminate the national debt in eight years, largely by focusing on better trade deals. But in office, Trump has presided over a considerable increase in red ink, with annual deficits expected to surpass $1 trillion as soon as 2019. Overall debt is rising accordingly, with the national debt held by the public surpassing $16 trillion for the first time last week. Total debt outstanding is now approaching $22 trillion.
Trump isn’t too worried about it, though, The Daily Beast reports.
Trump has ignored his advisers’ warnings on the need to address the national debt, the Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng and Lachlan Markay say, in part because any crisis that may arise will be some future president’s problem to deal with: “Sources close to the president say he has repeatedly shrugged it off, implying that he doesn’t have to worry about the money owed to America’s creditors—currently about $21 trillion—because he won’t be around to shoulder the blame when it becomes even more untenable.”
One early 2017 presentation by senior officials about the projected explosion in the debt was reportedly met with a blunt response by Trump: “Yeah, but I won’t be here.”
Current and former administration officials tell Suebsaeng and Markay that Trump recognizes the importance of addressing the debt — rhetorically and politically, at least. Trump has directed his Cabinet officers to find ways to reduce their budgets in order to cut the deficit. But he has also said that most federal spending is off limits, including Social Security and Medicare, so the potential savings are modest. Trump has also reportedly suggested that the debt could be paid off simply by printing more money, although it’s not clear if he was serious about that policy option.
The Heritage Foundation’s Stephen Moore, a supply-side economist who advised the president during the 2016 campaign, said that Trump believes that the country can grow its way out of any debt problem, without resorting to tax increases or spending cuts. “That was why, when he was confronted with these nightmare scenarios on the debt, I think he rejected them, because if you grow the economy… you don’t have a debt problem,” Moore told the Beast. “I know a few times when people would bring up the enormous debt, he would say, ‘We’re gonna grow our way out of it.’”
Strong economic growth hasn’t yet translated to shrinking deficits, as supply-siders like Moore and Trump adviser Karry Kudlow promise it will. Even so, the debt hasn’t become a priority for Trump, according to people who have spoken to him about it. “He understands the political nature of the debt but it’s clearly not, frankly, something he sees as crucial to his legacy,” one official told Suebsaeng and Markay, adding, “It’s not like it’s going to haunt him.”