As Ron Burgundy once said, I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.
There never has been and never will be a better example than this of Trump saying out loud what other people think. Granted, the idea that he needn’t even pretend to care about a grave problem because it poses no consequences for him personally is quintessentially Trump-y. But can-kicking on the debt has been Washington policy for decades, for basically the same reason. In the end, presidents care about keeping themselves and/or their party in power. Championing a meaningful solution to the debt crisis would make that impossible.
It’s ironic that this is being reported on the morning of the Bush funeral, in fact, when he and all of his recent predecessors are seated together. This is their policy too. Trump merely (mostly) dispensed with the lip service about caring.
The friction came to a head in early 2017 when senior officials offered Trump charts and graphics laying out the numbers and showing a “hockey stick” spike in the national debt in the not-too-distant future. In response, Trump noted that the data suggested the debt would reach a critical mass only after his possible second term in office.
“Yeah, but I won’t be here,” the president bluntly said, according to a source who was in the room when Trump made this comment during discussions on the debt…
Several people close to the president, both within and outside his administration, confirmed that the national debt has never bothered him in a truly meaningful way, despite his public lip service. “I never once heard him talk about the debt,” one former senior White House official attested.
Some aides have assured him that the economy can more or less grow its way out of the problem, which was stale nonsense even before the GOP decided to reduce revenue by cutting taxes last year. But that’s another reason why it’s hard to fault Trump here: Congress was filled with fiscally hawkish tea-party Republicans inveighing against the debt back when he was still hosting “The Apprentice.” What happened to them? Paul Ryan didn’t become a full-fledged political star among the establishment right until he unveiled his plan to solve the entitlement crunch during Obama’s first term. Getting Trump to sign Social Security or Medicare reform would have been a heavy lift given his promises on the trail in 2016 not to touch those programs, but POTUS has been willing to go along with other congressional schemes during his first two years in office. He would have signed anything the GOP sent him on repealing ObamaCare and told a bipartisan group of officials that he’d sign any immigration compromise they could agree to.
Did Ryan and McConnell try to get him to think seriously about the debt? If the party’s conservative ideologues don’t care about this issue, why on earth would he?
The Senate’s top Republican said Tuesday that he did not see a way for Republicans and Democrats to come to agreement on meaningful deficit reduction as long as President Obama remains in office.
“After years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is probably unattainable,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor.
Five years later they would be handed total control of government, free to pursue whatever bold reforms they chose and with the power if need be to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate to enact them. What’d they do with that power? In fact, congressional Republicans’ brinksmanship over the debt ceiling squeezed Obama at the time to the point that he was willing to offer them some cuts to Medicare and Social Security. The grand bargain never came off and lord knows they haven’t leaned on Trump for more favorable terms. It’s quite a scam they have going: When a Democrat is in the White House a real solution to rising deficits and debt is supposedly unattainable, whereas when a Republican is in the White House the party can’t push the issue with him for fear of damaging their electoral position and jeopardizing party unity.
There’s never a good time for them to address this problem. McConnell may never have uttered the words “I won’t be here” about the debt crisis but that’s his position too, whether he wants to admit it or not.
Don’t be too hard on him, though. Congress is paralyzed on this issue because the public is. A sober electorate willing to reckon with the consequences of entitlement-driven debt slowly cannibalizing the federal budget would accept some pain in the interest of long-term sustainability. Our electorate isn’t sober and isn’t willing to reckon with those consequences in a serious way. Vote against Social Security and Medicare and you’re finished politically. We get the leaders we deserve.