Trump acts like he's accomplishing a lot, but it's all for show
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Last week, congressional leaders dusted themselves off and began moving forward with a second attempt to repeal ObamaCare. It remains unclear whether a coalition can be cobbled together to pass a bill that pleases both moderates and conservatives, but if so, it will mark the first time the new administration presides over anything that impacts the most pressing national issues — spending and debt.

To a casual observer, it might look like President Trump has been busy dismantling the many machinations of government, and it is true that regulatory policy has moved swiftly in a direction pleasing to most conservatives.

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But a closer look reveals that the last two months have not been characterized so much by what has happened but by what has not. Near-daily controversy over executive orders or tweets does not represent substantial policy changes but instead masks an almost complete lack of movement on many issues.

 

Fiscal policy is among the most striking. By this time in 2009, then-President Obama had signed 12 bills into law, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ($663 billion), the 2009 Omnibus Act ($410 billion) and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Reauthorization Act ($73.8 billion), totaling roughly $1.1 trillion in spending. No doubt these bills represented the foundation of Democratic priorities at the time.

In contrast, President Trump has thus far signed a grand total of…one bill with significant spending implications — the reauthorization of NASA. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has opted to score only only two of the laws enacted this session. Officially naming clinics in Center Township, Pennsylvania and Pago Pago, American Samoa may be worthy efforts, but they hardly represent a heavy lift.

And while the House has voted on eight bills with spending implications, the Senate has yet to address a single one. Are we living in a post-fiscal world? Not quite.

President Trump has a unique perspective on spending and debt, at least compared to many of his fellow Republicans. A year ago, he told CNBC, “I am the king of debt. I love debt. I love playing with it,” and he’s often suggested that similar restructuring might be in order for the country.

Throughout the presidential campaign, he regularly decried the national debt while simultaneously pledging not to touch its major drivers — Social Security and Medicare. His plans since taking office have been similarly enigmatic, including a smorgasbord of huge increases and politically unlikely cuts. Ultimately, he makes no secret of the fact that other items top his agenda.

But to paraphrase the saying, Trump may not care about spending, but spending will eventually care about him. Congress’s continued failure to pass a budget plagues their very near future, with the current continuing resolution set to expire on April 28.

They will have to pass — and the President will have to sign — either omnibus spending legislation or another continuing resolution, though Senator John McCainJohn McCainBush biographer: Trump has moved the goalpost for civilized society White House to pressure McConnell on ObamaCare McCain: Trump needs to state difference between bigots and those fighting hate MORE (R-Ariz.) has already said he is willing to shut the government down to avoid the latter, easier option.

Fiscal conservatives have even more reason for concern as politicians from both sides gear up to use the debt limit fight as leverage to advance wildly divergent policy goals — a dynamic that often results in more spending, not less. Even if President Trump were able to cut the entire non-defense discretionary budget, he would still be dealing with major shortfalls before any other initiatives are considered. 

Ultimately, it will take serious and substantial reform before the United States can achieve anything resembling fiscal discipline, and this reform will not happen easily. Spending massive amounts clearly isn't responsible, but refusing to address the reasons why both parties often do is nearly as bad.

Some may argue that lack of serious legislative action thus far is good news for fiscal hawks, and indeed it is when compared with the profligate record of President Obama at this point in his administration.

But with the latest CBO Budget Outlook highlighting imminent fiscal imbalances and projecting even worse problems down the road, refusing to focus on cutting and reforming spending would represent a very real cost to the country in just a few short years and failure at a goal Republicans have been elected to carry out.

Here’s hoping Congress and the President can turn things around.

 

Jonathan Bydlak is the founder and president of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, a non-profit, non-partisan advocate for reduced federal spending and balanced budgets.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.