While the news media and thus the country obsess over really important stuff like 30-year-old yearbook photos and details of an alleged phony hate crime, the United States’ national debt did not climb, nor inch, nor slide to a new record high the other day.
The nation’s accumulating national debt soared through $22 Trillion. In fact, the amount that Americans owe others now resides north of $22.3 trillion, larger than the entire national economy.
It’s not only growing because the country continues to blithely spend beyond its means. It’s growing because, to stem the growth of inflation, the Fed has raised interest rates nine times in the last four years.
That not only jacks the interest you pay on your credit card balances and new mortgages. It boosts the interest payments the U.S. government must hand over to its bond holders like, say, China. Last year’s annual interest payments were $13 billion more than the previous year.
And the country’s debt limit gives congressional cadres something to strut around every few months to no useful effect.
When it does make a momentary nod to this fiscal trouble spot, the media blame it fully on the Trump administration’s tax cuts. Officials maintain tax payments will eventually catch up and reduce the deficit as the stimulated economy creates more jobs and more paychecks and more income tax collections.
The economy did spurt sharply last year, growing at almost twice the rate of the Obama years. And it created hundreds of thousands of new jobs, raising the labor force participation rate to a new record level.
But trimming the national debt that way relies on at least holding regular government spending flat.
You may have noticed, we haven’t.
Last fiscal year’s deficit totaled $779 billion, 17 percent more than in 2017.
Did you notice the cries of fiscal anguish from both sides of the political aisle in Congress? No, c’mon, you didn’t. That’s because there weren’t any.
Not from Democrats, because they always want to spend more on the base’s minority segments. And because they sense more damaging targets for the already unfolding 2020 campaigns in Donald Trump’s taxes, Cabinet and entourage.
And not from Republicans because, well, their party’s obstreperous leader is a lifelong Democrat who’s never pretended to be a fiscal hawk.
And, truth be told, they like spending too, especially if it’s on military stuff to rebuild the nation’s rundown armed forces and equipment. Remember the vocal Tea Party crying foul over the lack of fiscal restraint a few years ago? Those members went on the Endangered Species list.
“If we don’t have a strong military,” the president said accurately the other day, “you don’t have to worry about debt. You have bigger problems.”
One of those other problems involves the aging American population, which is placing heavier and heavier demands on its healthcare entitlements.
Entitlement reform, meaning changing the rules for future and possibly present recipients, is not exactly a popular rallying cry 88 weeks before a national election. So that’s dead.
And last fall Americans collectively decided to divide the federal government between parties. Historically, that’s the U.S. default position. The only modern president who had his party controlling Congress for an entire term was Jimmy Carter.
Divided government essentially means that nothing much major will get done until things settle after Nov. 3, 2020. And addressing the soaring national debt would definitely be something major.
Here’s the outlook for change: If Trump gets a second term, status quo on the national debt, meaning zip gets done. If a Democrat wannabe gets in, how do you think they intend to pay for Medicare-for-all, free college tuition and all the other giveaway promises they’re already making to woo primary votes?
So, there we are — Nowhere. Again. Still.