As I noted earlier this morning, last night’s debate brought a refreshing change to the public discussion of this election. Some of you may have fainted from shock and missed a bunch of it, but there was actual policy discussion taking place. This came as a surprise to those of us who assumed there simply wouldn’t be time amidst all the questions about criminal offenses, sexual assaults, hidden brain damage and the grabbing of genitals. And one topic which made it onto the stage was the deficit and the national debt. Sadly, we saw Hillary Clinton jump into the fray with her usual misleading statements concerning the record of the Democrats, as was immediately highlighted by the RNC.
CLINTON: “When President Obama came into office, he inherited the worst economic disaster since the great depression. He has cut the deficit by two-thirds.” (Hillary Clinton, Presidential Debate, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV, 10/19/16)
This is a dodgy boast at best, and as the RNC is quick to note, some of the basic math underlying the claims shows a different story. They point to a variety of sources to put this in focus.
In 2008 the federal budget deficit was $459 Billion. In July, the White House predicted that the 2016 deficit would be $600B (a jump of $162 Billion from last year). And in terms of the grand totals, the national debt went from $10.627 Trillion In 2009 to $19.766 Trillion as of this week.
But if we’re going to be honest in our assessment, our record hasn’t been entirely downhill under Obama. In fact, after four truly dismal years we showed some signs of promise in the last few. (From the web site US Government Spending.)
That doesn’t tell the whole story, of course. Not shown on the chart are the other costs in so called “agency debt” which bring the estimate for 2016 right back up to the trillion dollar level.
The federal debt increases each year by more than the deficit. For FY 2016 the federal budget estimates that the federal debt will increase by about $1 trillion. That’s about $250 billion more than the official “deficit.” See Federal Debt.
But there’s more. There is the increase in debt from the “agency debt” of government-sponsored enterprises. And there is the implied deficit from unfunded liabilities like Social Security and Medicare. See chart of latest Long-term Budget Outlook from the Congressional Budget Office.
Wasn’t this supposed to be one of the areas where conservatives and Republicans around the country were actually able to agree? I was really hoping for some sort of crystallizing moment in these debates where we could all get serious about the policy areas where we were on the same page, and it’s very different than the playbook Hillary Clinton is using. Unfortunately, the responses from the candidates offered little of substance, to say nothing of a plan as to how they would get Congress to go along with any strategy to put us on the path toward solvency.
Talking about “reducing the deficit” from one year to the next is nice, but it’s not a long term solution. Going in the hole more slowly is akin to being stuck in a well and reducing the volume of water pouring in. You’re still going to drown eventually… it will just take longer. If we get a fresh chance to do this again in two or four years, perhaps we could get back to a serious discussion of the fact that our country is going bankrupt. Both parties have contributed to this sorry state of affairs and neither is putting a serious proposal on the table to change that reality.