The discussion about the nation’s deficit and debt largely evaporated during the first two years of President Donald Trump’s administration as the Republican-controlled Congress approved hundreds of billions in new spending and passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut.
Sure, some conservative groups chafed when Republican lawmakers signed off on boatloads of red ink after years of harping about a looming fiscal apocalypse and repeated demands for dollar-for-dollar cuts in exchange for proposed new spending by Barack Obama when he was president.
But fiscal austerity has mostly been an afterthought for the Trump administration and many GOP members of Congress, even as federal debt ticked past $22 trillion last week — an increase of more than $2 trillion since Obama left office.
That’s why a panel titled Deficit Hawks: An Endangered Species? at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual gathering of conservative activists outside Washington, D.C., raised some eyebrows this week.
It included Tim Chapman, the executive director of conservative policy advocacy organization Heritage Action. At one point he noted that the 2010 tea party movement that helped Republicans capture the House on a wave of discontent about the nation’s fiscal obligations failed to stop the rise in debt, which stood at $13 trillion that year. Heritage Action opposed spending increases like last year’s $300 billion budget deal signed by Trump.
Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who also appeared on the panel, said the debt presented “the greatest threat” to U.S. national security. The conservative senator, who some might call an endangered deficit hawk, pinned the blame squarely on mandatory entitlement spending like Medicare and Social Security. But he helped contribute to the debt by supporting spending increases and Trump’s unpaid tax cut — a charge Perdue disputed.
“The Democrats are lying about the tax bill,” he said Thursday, insisting that a growing U.S. economy would help pay for the $1.5 trillion tax cut over the next decade.
The Commerce Department reported on Thursday that the economy grew 2.9 percent in 2018, just shy of the Trump administration’s 3 percent target. However, economic forecasters see 2018 as the high-water mark for growth under Trump, projecting just 1.1 percent growth in the economy by 2020. Some even fear another recession on the horizon.
Perdue introduced a nonbinding resolution this week “recognizing the national debt as a threat to national security,” ahead of a March 2 formal deadline for lawmakers to raise the debt limit. It has several GOP co-sponsors, including Sens. Joni Ernst (Iowa), Jerry Moran (Kan.) and Mike Rounds (S.D.).
Congress won’t actually have to act to raise the debt limit until later this year. But a nonbinding resolution that recommends no concrete steps to address the debt is likely the only action lawmakers will take to address the nation’s worsening fiscal outlook in the near future.