Trump's debt wave threatens to drown us all — it's time to turn the tide

Our national economy remains humming along with unemployment near a historical low and GDP growth expanding at a healthy 2.9 percent. Sounds like a great time to pay down our $22 trillion national debt!

Except President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE’s spending spree threatens to push his legacy on fiscal issues closer to that of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaImmigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids More adult Twitter users follow Obama than Trump: survey Trump's no racist; he's an equal opportunity offender MORE than Abraham Lincoln.

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The White House just released its proposed 2020 budget. Cue the chorus of media types decrying proposed cuts as draconian. The Washington Post wrote that it was part of a larger trend attacking the retired, the disabled, and schoolchildren. Vox, in true Voxian fashion, wailed over “massive, historic cuts to everything from the EPA to Medicare.” The biggest hook was a media wave describing Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosHillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats MORE snuffing the flame of the Special Olympics personally.

Not only was the media narrative about spending wrong, it was dangerously wrong. The Trump budget is our nation’s largest in history — by a long shot — and our budget deficit is reaching catastrophic levels.

The largest driver is ballooning spending on entitlement programs. Trump’s budget pushes for slowing the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending over the next decade, while leaving funding levels higher than they are today. Former Vice President Biden took a pause from smelling women’s hair to state that this represented almost a trillion in cuts, prompting a rare Politico “mostly false” rating for a Democrat from PolitiFact.

The Trump White House has been remarkably weak in restraining the explosion of our national debt — and will be caught without a proper rebuttal for the next several years of Democratic spending proposals and potential new programs. While the president can decry new spending behemoths like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and “free” college proposals, these represent the future of the spending debate. He has allowed the Overton Window to shift from Obamacare being the end of American health care as we know it into defending a version of it against a completely socialized medical system.

In the 2020 election, no matter what happens, Trump will be accused of massive cuts to just about every program under the sun (except for the military). He would be playing a fool’s game to try and out-promise the Democrats on entitlement spending. Trump, by promising no structural changes to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid is giving a mouse a cookie, and will be surprised when the Democrats want to expand those programs and add more budget-busters on top. His 2016 promises of no cuts further box him into a political trap of his own making. 

Many conservatives abandoned George W. Bush in his second term over a Republican-held White House and Congress’s spending hikes, leaving the country with $9 trillion in total debt. If Trump is not careful, he could leave the nation with $10 trillion in new debt.

Of course, all of these projections factor in strong economic and job growth. When a Democratic House of Representatives, global tariff effects, and wider economic factors throw the nation into our next eventual recession, spending on anti-poverty and unemployment programs will spike and tax receipts will fall sharply. If the feds can’t pay down debt during a strong economic upsurge, the overly optimistic White House estimates that the deficit will heal itself in a decade will likely not come to pass. That is rose colored to a fault, with Forbes calling trillion-dollar deficits Trump’s legacy. Even someone who described himself as the “King of Debt” during his real estate and casino career surely wouldn’t want that written on his political epitaph.

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Trump has a narrow window between now and the heat of the 2020 cycle. He talked about another effort to strike down Obamacare, but short of a Supreme Court case and John Roberts having a change of heart, that seems very unlikely.

Instead, Trump should focus on restraining the growth of entitlement spending — for the most part without needing actual cuts. By implementing means testing, caps for wealthy recipients, and utilizing new inflation gauges, he can be the president who saves each of these programs instead of handing them to the next president. After all, even the Obama administration proposed some of the same solutions. In all likelihood, each of these programs will run out of their original trust funds by the end of the next decade, and everyone from the Washington establishment to the legacy media will place this on Trump’s doorstep while decrying his administration as one of cruel government spending restrictions.

If Trump will be blamed either way, why not choose the path that could also solve the problems at hand? It’s a lower-risk, high-reward option for a president who wants to be the solver of all of our major national problems.

Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and author of “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.