The problem when Donald Trump rails against the debt

donald trump us debt

Donald Trump talks a lot about America having a big debt problem.

He often says the country has $19 trillion in debt and the country needs "someone like me to sort out that mess."

(Actually the gross debt is more like $18.4 trillion today, but fair enough — it's a big number and what's $600 billion among friends?)

So what exactly would Trump do about the debt? Judging from what he's said publicly, the answers range from "really hard to say" to "he will make it worse."

For starters, Trump has proposed a tax reform plan full of tax cuts that will cost between $10 trillion and $12 trillion over a decade, according to very preliminary estimates from the Tax Foundation.

Trump has suggested economic growth plus spending cuts and closing unspecified tax loopholes will make up for lost revenue and even reduce deficits.

Good luck with that, say fiscal experts.

Mark Goldwein, senior policy director of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, estimates Trump's tax plan would increase public debt to 125% of the size of the economy by 2025, up from 74% today.

Translation: Just to keep the debt where it is, Trump would have to propose spending cuts and/or tax increases equal to 50% of GDP that year. That's going to be about three times what the government spends in a year.

Related: Here's how Jeb Bush would reform Medicare and Social Security

And when it comes to spending cuts, Trump has said repeatedly that he will not make cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.

Spending on those three programs (nearly $1.9 trillion in the past year) accounts for more than half of all government spending ($3.7 trillion) and is a big driver of growth in the long-term debt

While Medicare and Medicaid are far bigger drivers than Social Security, that program is nevertheless facing a potential cut in benefits of 21% by 2034 if no reforms - either tax increases or benefit changes - are made.

He has criticized former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan for being negative about the programs and said that he wants to "save" Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Trump has suggested he would save entitlement programs by recapturing money in other areas of the economy. "I'm going to stop losing $400 billion with China when they take our jobs and everything else. I'm going to stop losing $70 billion a year with Japan. ... I'm going to turn all of that around, and we're going to do absolutely fine," he said.

He also has allowed he'd be willing to forfeit his own Social Security benefit.

Trump has yet to put out a spending proposal, and until he does it's impossible to say how much he would affect the debt, said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a fiscal watchdog group.

Publicly Trump has said, "We're going to be cutting tremendous amounts of money ... lots of waste and fraud and abuse. I'm not cutting services. I may cut the Department of Education. ... Environmental protection, what they do is a disgrace."

He also favors defunding Planned Parenthood.

Even if he had his way, those items taken together amount to crumbs fiscally speaking.

Less than 3% of the $3.7 trillion the government spent in the last year went to the EPA ($7 billion), the Department of Education ($90 billion) and Planned Parenthood ($450 million) combined.

As for waste, fraud and abuse? They may be inexcusable, but they're not debt busters, according to CRFB. "The reality is that even aggressive strategies [to get rid of them] would make only a small dent."

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