Editorial: The swamp keeps winning

The Detroit News

Conservatives must be wondering what happened to their stunning 2016 election triumph. Donald Trump was elected president and given Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.

With complete control of the federal government, Trump was supposed to make America great again, to tame the bureaucratic behemoth to serve the interests of taxpayers, to drain the swamp.

But if you look at the $1.3 trillion stop-gap spending bill rushed through Congress last week, you’ll find Donald Trump’s signature at the bottom. Tally up the votes, and you’ll note that it was Republicans who pushed this monstrosity to passage.

And here’s what it does for the forgotten men and women who Trump was supposed to give voice to in Washington: sticks them with a budget deficit of more than $800 billion, all of which will be added to a national debt that crossed the $21 trillion mark on the GOP’s watch.

Score another W for the swamp.

The economy is growing at an above 3 percent annual clip for the first time in more than a decade. That means record revenues have been pouring into the federal treasury.

And yet even in these robust times, Washington can’t come anywhere close to balancing its budget, and, in fact, the gap between what comes in and what goes out just keeps getting wider. How large will the deficit be when the economy takes a downturn?

Take a look at what’s happened since the end of the Great Recession in 2010:

■Revenue has recovered nicely, hitting a total $3.32 trillion last year, and expected to rise again this year, despite the recent tax cuts. In 2010, government receipts stood at just $2.16 trillion. So revenues are up by roughly one-third over the period.

■The government spent $3.45 trillion in 2010; this year it will spend $4.17 trillion. All of the new revenue that’s been generated during the economic recovery has been spent, and then some. Not one dime has gone to pay down the debt.

■While tax receipts and spending grew by about one-third, inflation was modest, up roughly 13 percent over the course of the decade. Cost increases for operating the federal government grew at more than twice the rate of the rest of the economy.

Now, here’s why you should care about all these numbers. That debt belongs to each one of us. To our children, grandchildren and unto the generation.

The debt per capita — meaning the obligation belonging to every person in America — is $64,458. That compares to just over $20,000 per person in 2010.

By the way, the per capita number doesn’t include state or local debt, which also belongs to us as citizens. And it’s the definition of being “hopelessly in debt.”

The federal government can’t pay that off, particularly if it keeps treating any revenue growth as new money to spend.

Interest payments on the debt were $276 billion in 2017, or 6.8 percent of all spending. That is expected to grow to $474.5 billion this year. That much money would smooth a lot of roads, pay for a whole bunch of health care.

Instead, it’s being consumed by the unchecked appetite of this generation and past ones for things they wanted but couldn’t really afford.

So coming generations will suffer the consequences of our gluttony. What will they think of us?