The Biden-Pelosi-Schumer deficits are a catastrophe

Opinion by Quin Hillyer

While the Biden administration brags that it “cut” the federal government’s annual deficit in half in Fiscal Year 2022, the reality is that the $1.4 trillion deficit is not a triumph but a travesty.

The “decline” in the deficit reported on Oct. 11 comes despite, not because of, any of Biden’s actions as president. And the remaining deficit’s size remains gargantuan and grotesque.

When the famously high-spending Barack Obama left office, the then-most-recent deficit (FY 2016) was $587 billion. Even after adjusting for inflation, that’s just $720 billion in 2022 dollars – or just barely one half the size of Biden’s deficit. And, to repeat, Obama’s own deficit was outrageously high.

For another comparison, again allowing for inflation, then-President Bill Clinton’s1994 deficit of $203 billion – which was considered so bad that it was a major cause of the backlash that swept Republicans into a House majority for the first time in 40 years – was only 29% as large as Biden’s.

The only reason the deficit “declined” in the past year is that it had been artificially (and astronomically) expanded in the two prior years because of coronavirus-relief funds approved first by former President Trump and then, at an even higher level, by Biden. It was akin what would happen to a family budget if for two years the family were forced to spend an extra $100,000 annually for cancer treatments, and then the treatments and extraordinary costs ended. The new family budget would now be far lower, but not because the family suddenly became frugal. It would be a wonderful thing that the cancer was now in remission, but the family budget would merely be returning closer to its norm.

In this case, Biden hasn’t even returned to the norm, but to a deficit two to four times the norm for a non-crisis year. That’s a record of profligacy that should cause not boasts but deep and abiding shame. As the high federal deficit and debt also come at a time of 40-year-high inflation and more than half a year of economic contraction, it means the public is being hurt economically in three ways at once.

The truth is that Biden and congressional Democrats have hiked substantially, not cut, the federal spending “baseline” – the amount of non-crisis outlays – even above the already-free-spending ways of Obama and Trump.

“In reality,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the respected, centrist Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, “their actions have added more than $4,8 trillion to the debt over the coming decade.”

The last four decades have shown that if voters want restraint on annual federal appropriations, they need a Republican Congress. Discretionary spending was held in check in the early 1980s under a Republican Senate (with a de facto House majority of Republicans and conservative Democrats), again in the 1995-98 years of Republican majorities in both chambers, and again in the first few years after the Tea Party led to Republican ascendance in the 2010 elections.

Presidents of both parties have proved to be big spenders, but only Republican-led Congresses (and not even all of those) successfully have put on the brakes.

As it is, for a full year the fiscal reckoning for the Biden-Pelosi profligacy had been coming due in the form of high inflation and macro-economic contraction. It is ordinary Americans, not the liberal political elites, who are suffering from it. Those ordinary Americans should see Biden’s boasts about having “only” a $1.4 trillion deficit is an insult to their intelligence and a continuing threat to their wallets.

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