The Treasury Department released a report Tuesday evening confirming that the national debt had hit a record $22 trillion — nearly four years after then-candidate Donald Trump promised his supporters he would reduce the national debt from $18 trillion, if elected president.
In its fiscal statement, the department noted the total public debt had reached $22.012 trillion, the first time it has surpassed $21 trillion in history. On the day Trump took office, it was $19.947 trillion, meaning under his administration, the debt has actually risen $2.065 trillion.
Part of this is due to underlying trends in the growth of Medicare and Social Security costs, but the figure can also be attributed to the trillion-dollar deficit cost of the tax cuts Trump and congressional Republicans forced through in 2017, which predominantly benefited corporations and the wealthy.
The ballooning debt stands in stark contrast with Trump’s earlier campaign promises.
At his official campaign launch address in 2015, Trump told supporters he would apply his business acumen to federal fiscal policy, right from the get-go, saying he would “reduce our $18 trillion in debt, because, believe me, we’re in a bubble.”
“Sadly, the American dream is dead,” he said at the time. “But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.”
In December that year, he also said he would “freeze the budget,” which has not happened.
Again, in March 2016, Trump told The Washington Post that he could get rid of the debt “fairly quickly.” When pressed, he said, “Well, I would say over a period of eight years.”
Trump also asserted during the second presidential debate in October 2016 that he would bring back energy companies, which would make so much money that they could pay off the national debt, which has not yet happened.
Shortly before his inauguration, he told Sean Hannity that he would “balance the budget very quickly … I think over a five-year period. And I don’t know, maybe I could even surprise you.”
Hannity, whose show aired Tuesday night after the Treasury data was released, spent his time attacking Democrats over the wall, the Green New Deal, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s work on the Russia investigation — and did not mention the federal debt at all.
Since his election, Trump has suggested he would be able to start paying down the then-$21 trillion in debt “because of tariffs.” The ongoing trade-war that resulted from those tariffs has instead hit American farmers hard, with the agricultural industry unsure whether negotiations with countries like China — previously a major buyer of U.S. soybeans — will do much to reverse the damage.
Unfortunately for Trump, it will be much harder to reduce the now-$22 trillion debt now, considering he can’t reduce the deficit.
In fact, there does not appear to be any sort of Trump administration plan to reduce the debt — the last budget proposal it released was instead projected to add $7.2 trillion more to the debt over the next 10 years.
As a candidate, Trump regularly attacked President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for increasing the debt, alleging their past policies had added $9 trillion. Since taking office, Trump has quieted on the debt, tweeting about it less than a handful of times, once in February 2017, and again in November 2017 and August 2018.
Trump, who took office during a period of economic growth, has instead tried to take credit for the reduction in national debt he saw one month into his term, and attempted to adversely compare it to the increase in debt Obama saw in his first month. Obama took office as the Great Recession was accelerating, and the government was spending billions to shore up the financial sector.
Trump’s first joint address to Congress and his subsequent two State of the Union addresses also failed to mention the debt, the budgetary deficit, or anything related to fiscal policy. Last year, Trump’s budget director and current chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, dismissed his boss’ budget promises as “hyperbole.”