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When Trump was running for office, he said that he was going to pay off the national debt in 8 years.
It rose almost $7.8 trillion during his time in the White House — approaching World War II levels, relative to the size of the economy. This time around, it will be much harder to dig ourselves out of.
The growth in the annual deficit under Trump ranks as the third-biggest increase, relative to the size of the economy, of any U.S. presidential administration, according to a calculation by Eugene Steuerle, co-founder of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. And unlike George W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln, who oversaw the larger relative increases in deficits, Trump did not launch two foreign conflicts or have to pay for a civil war.
Economists agree that we needed massive deficit spending during the covid-19 crisis to ward off an economic cataclysm, but federal finances under Trump had become dire before the pandemic.
The combination of Trump’s 2017 tax cut and the lack of any serious spending restraint helped both the deficit and the debt soar. So when the once-in-a-lifetime viral disaster slammed our country and we threw more than $3 trillion into covid-related stimulus, there was no longer any margin for error.
Bigger debt ultimately means bigger interest costs, even in an era when the Federal Reserve has forced down Treasury rates to ultralow levels. The government’s interest cost (including interest paid to government trust funds) was around $523 billion in the 2020 fiscal year. That outstrips all spending on education, employment training, research and social services, Treasury data shows.