NEW YORK, NY – The final tab is in: legislation and executive actions signed by former president Donald Trump added $7.8 trillion in ten-year budget deficits. When accounting for non-legislative budget savings, the total projected budget deficits expanded by $3.9 trillion over the decade.
These are the lead findings of a new report by Manhattan Institute senior fellow Brian Riedl that provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the Trump fiscal record. Using data from the Congressional Budget Office, Riedl aggregates every line-item of every bill Trump signed, as well as the deficit shifts driven by economic changes and CBO’s technical re-estimates of existing tax-and-spending policies. Rather than just look at the deficit totals, this accounting method separates out the inherited deficit baseline from the actual policies that a president can control.
When Trump was inaugurated, CBO projected $10.0 trillion in deficits over the 2017-2027 decade. By the time he left office, CBO’s estimate had grown to $13.9 trillion. Reducing deficits from the $10 trillion projection should have been easy, Riedl explains, because $3.9 trillion in automatic savings resulted from faster-than-expected economic growth and lower-than-expected interest rates. Instead of building on those savings, the president helped enact $7.8 trillion in new initiatives, flipping his total fiscal imprint to a $3.9 trillion net cost, with pandemic-relief legislation ($3.9 trillion), the 2017 tax cuts ($2.0 trillion), and legislation raising the discretionary spending caps ($1.6 trillion) serving as the strongest cost drivers.Riedl finds that Trump’s fiscal record compares poorly to his direct predecessors. Using the same methodology, Obama added $5.0 trillion in legislative costs over a decade, and Bush added $6.9 trillion. Not only did Trump sign more ten-year debt into law than these predecessors, but also he did it in just a single four-year presidential term, compared to his predecessors’ eight years in the Oval Office. Riedl offers bipartisan blame for these deficits. Of those $7.8 trillion in new initiatives, $6.5 trillion passed Congress with strong bipartisan majorities. Only $1.3 trillion was passed predominantly by Republicans (mainly the 2017 tax cuts).
Americans can debate the importance of the pandemic spending and the wisdom of the tax cuts and new discretionary spending. However, there is no dispute that Trump departed the White House with the largest peacetime budget deficit in American history, and a national debt exceeding 100 percent of the economy for the first time since World War II.