In 2016, then-candidate Donald J. Trump promised to eliminate the national debt within eight years. Instead, U.S. public debt has grown by more than $2 trillion since he took office, and policies signed into law by the president will add $4 trillion to the debt over the next decade.

What happened?

Eliminating the debt in eight years was always a pipe dream. But eliminating budget deficits within eight years is not only doable — it’s necessary. 

Unfortunately, we’re not headed in that direction. Budget deals cut during the first three years of the Trump administration have sent federal spending — and deficits — soaring. Today, America’s fiscal position, already precarious when President Obama left office, is even worse. 

President Trump's 2017 tax reforms, combined with the administration’s deregulation initiative, unleashed hiring and wage growth; the federal revenues for the first nine months of this most recent fiscal year are up 3%. 

Yet Congress’s appetite for spending outpaces revenue growth. In those same first nine months, spending increased 7%.

Consider the last two budget deals. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 — the first caps deal President Trump signed into law — increased spending by more than the two previous budget deals, forged during the Obama administration, combined. 

The latest deal, worked out between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, is even worse. Neither side wanted to be bound by fiscal rules established by their predecessors. And rather than work out a responsible budget that would reduce deficit spending, they agreed simply to discard all semblance of fiscal discipline, waive the debt limit, and clear the way for spending to their hearts’ content — soaring deficits be damned. 

They added insult to injury by disguising yet more spending as “emergency” provisions. 

While that may sound prudent, spending designated for emergencies has become little more than slush-fund financing.

For example, the Community Development Block Grant is used to address such “urgent and essential” national projects as paying for a brewery expansion in New York. Don’t get me wrong. I love beer, but I don’t expect federal taxpayers to subsidize production of my IPA.

A better way to manage taxpayer dollars starts with taking a close look at the federal budget and separating core constitutional functions and true national priorities from nice-to-have programs. Budgeting is ultimately about prioritizing. 

Without budget limits, anything goes, including wasting hard-earned taxpayer dollars on frivolous and wasteful activities. The feds doled out $150 billion in improper payments last year. And year after year, they overpay for infrastructure projects by giving sweetheart deals to unions with project-labor-agreements and rules such as the Davis Bacon Act, which sets inflated wage rates. Taxpayers deserve better.

Polls show large majorities support limits on federal spending, as well as limits on how much Congress can run up the national debt. Both will be necessary if we are to protect younger and future generations of Americans from inheriting a crushing burden of debt and taxes. 

It is imperative to reform entitlement programs. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid account for the vast majority of federal spending growth, yet lawmakers don’t even set budgets for them.

Social Security and Medicare spending transfers purchasing power from younger, working families to older, retired populations. It’s neither fair nor prudent to saddle young workers and struggling families with excessive debt to maintain federal retirement benefits for millionaires.

There is a better way. The Heritage Foundation’s Blueprint for Balance lays out an action plan that would eliminate the federal deficit in eight years, without raising taxes, while preserving “safety net” programs for the truly needy, strengthening national defense, and spurring economic growth.

Let’s get it done.

Romina Boccia is the director of The Heritage Foundation’s Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget. She wrote this for

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