WASHINGTON -- House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., and ranking member U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., are casting doubt on President Donald Trump's claims that he can balance the budget "at the right time."
In interviews Thursday, both men said it's implausible that Trump -- or anyone else -- could get such a proposal through the current Congress.
"He's just saying things because he says things. They're not based in reality," Yarmuth said Thursday.
Getting the budget balanced within the next decade is unlikely, said Womack, the last Republican to chair the committee. He lost the chairmanship when Democrats recently took control of the House.
"You can do it on paper. Yeah, I could sit down right now and throw some numbers down that show we can achieve balance in a 10-year window," Womack said.
But that would require large spending cuts that a majority of lawmakers would never stomach, the former Rogers mayor said.
"It's not politically doable, and so I try to live in political reality," he said. "I know what the politics looks like."
As a candidate, Trump had predicted that he'd balance the nation's budget and get rid of the national debt "fairly quickly."
Instead, deficit spending has accelerated, from $584.7 billion in fiscal 2016 to $665.8 billion in fiscal 2017. The Congressional Budget Office estimates this fiscal year's deficit at $897 billion, up from $779 billion in fiscal 2018. The deficits are expected to continue growing, topping $1 trillion by fiscal 2022.
The national debt is $21.96 trillion.
A representative of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which opposes deficit spending, foresees the debt surpassing $22 trillion later this month.
That works out to more than $67,000 for every man, woman and child living in this country.
Asked by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Wednesday why he had failed to balance the budget as promised, Trump blamed disaster relief costs, defense spending increases and Democrats for the ballooning deficits.
Hurricane recovery efforts last year, he said, had cost $90 billion in Puerto Rico; $30 billion in Texas and $19 billion in Florida. That's $139 billion altogether.
Last year's bipartisan budget agreement, which included defense dollars sought by Republicans and domestic spending increases backed by Democrats, had also contributed to the problem, he said.
"With the Democrats, when we had to rebuild the military, then we had to give them money for their projects in a similar amount," he said. "And in many cases it's like throwing money out the window. Otherwise you can't get it approved."
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 allowed military spending to increase by $80 billion over previously established spending limits while also allowing nonmilitary spending to exceed budget control caps by $63 billion. That's $143 billion.
"We had to rebuild our military. Look, that's more important than balancing the budget, which I can always do at the right time. And we had to rebuild many other things," he said.
Marc Goldwein, senior vice president for a Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, says the deal on defense spending coupled with disaster relief funding made a bad deficit worse.
But the biggest single contributor to the increase, he said, was the president's 10-year, $1.9 trillion tax cut package that was signed into law in December 2017.
These items didn't cause the deficit, he said, it was already on track to top $500 billion.
All that Trump's changes did was drive it higher, he said.
"Even without any of that spending, we would have had huge, big deficits," Goldwein said. "And even without the tax cuts, we still would have had a relatively large deficit."
Ultimately, Trump opted not to tighten the nation's belt, he said.
"There was tax cuts and there was spending increases," he said. "To balance the budget, you would've needed the reverse."
That would have meant making unpopular choices, Goldwein said.
"It's actually really easy politically to spend more money and to cut taxes because people love getting tax cuts and they enjoy ... spending increases," Goldwein said. "It's actually really hard to balance the budget because it requires raising taxes on people and cutting spending [on programs] that they may like."
The nation's fiscal state was highlighted during a House Budget Committee meeting Thursday. Witnesses stressed the need for higher spending on health care, education and other areas during a hearing titled, "Investing in America's Economic and National Security."
Womack and other Republicans insisted that the nation can't afford to continue raising spending.
The U.S. is expected to collect $3.5 trillion in revenue during fiscal 2019, which ends Sept. 30. It will end up spending about $4.4 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Roughly $1.3 trillion of that spending is discretionary, Womack said, a category that includes everything from defense spending to transportation.
The rest is mandatory spending (including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) as well as interest on the debt.
Mandatory spending means the law requires it.
Unless changes are made to mandatory spending, the nation's budgetary problems will never be fixed, Womack said.
As a candidate, Trump was resistant to cutting major entitlement programs.
"I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid," he tweeted on May 7, 2015.
Womack, on the other hand, said the largest budgetary items can't be ignored.
"It's an inconvenient truth that the entitlement programs in this country are systematically bankrupting the nation," he said. "I think that eventually there's going to have to be a summit in this city of people who understand what the deficit and the debt mean to the long-range viability of the republic, and it needs to happen sooner than later."
The "right time" to balance the budget "was years ago before we made all the promises that we're now having to keep that are just crippling the country from a deficit and debt perspective," Womack said.
While lawmakers debate discretionary spending, "all those other programs just continue to run -- unabated, unchecked and without reforms," he said.
Yarmuth said Republicans have blown up the deficit by approving tax cuts over the years that disproportionately benefit those with the most financial resources.
"I think we need to certainly start looking to reduce the deficit," he said Thursday.
But the deficits are so large now that it's no longer realistic to eliminate them altogether, he said.
"The question of balancing the budget at this point is absurd. Anybody who thinks they can do that is dreaming," he said. "There is no political will, and the president would find this out very quickly, for making significant cuts in mandatory spending."
A Section on 02/08/2019
Print Headline: Political reality doesn't support balancing budget, Arkansas congressman says