Media called Donald Trump's claim that he could eliminate the national debt in eight years by renegotiating trade while still cutting taxes “impossible” and “absolute fabulism” that “insult[s] the intelligence of Americans” because “the math, of course, doesn't add up.”
Trump Claims As President He Can Eliminate The National Debt In Eight Years
Trump Predicts He Can Erase $19 Trillion Debt In Two Terms As President By Renegotiating Trade Deals. During a March 31 interview with The Washington Post, Donald Trump claimed he could eliminate the country's $19 trillion debt “over a period of eight years” while still pushing a “very big tax cut.” According to the Post, Trump claimed “economic growth he foresees as a consequence of renegotiated deals would enable the United States to pay down the debt” :
[Donald Trump] insisted that he would be able to get rid of the nation's more than $19 trillion national debt “over a period of eight years.”
Most economists would consider this impossible because it could require taking more than $2 trillion a year out of the annual $4 trillion budget to pay off holders of the debt.
Trump vehemently disagrees: “I'm renegotiating all of our deals, the big trade deals that we're doing so badly on. With China, $505 billion this year in trade.” He said that economic growth he foresees as a consequence of renegotiated deals would enable the United States to pay down the debt -- although many economists have said the exact opposite, that a trade war would be crippling to the U.S. economy.
Coupled with his push on trade would be a “very big tax cut,” which Trump unveiled last September. That proposal increases taxes on the “very rich” but reduces taxes for most taxpayers and would cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. To woo companies back to the United States, he would offer an incentive of a deeply discounted rate and would no longer allow corporations to defer taxes on income earned overseas. [The Washington Post, 4/2/16]
Media Slam Trump's Proposal As “A Fantastical Notion” And “Absolute Fabulism”
Wash. Post Fact-Checker: Trump's Proposal Is “A Fantastical Notion.” In an April 2 article, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler gave Trump's claim that he can eliminate the debt in eight years “4 Pinocchios” -- its highest rating for the most egregiously incorrect claims -- saying, “We regret we have only Four Pinocchios to give for this whopper.” To back up this rating, Kessler pointed to “basic math” to explain “why this is a fantastical notion.” First, Trump would need to eliminate the deficit, which is set to increase over the next eight years. Then, even if he reduced discretionary spending, renegotiated trade deals, and increased revenues, it would still not eliminate the debt in eight years. [The Washington Post, 4/2/16]
CNBC's Ben White On Trump's Debt Proposal: “None Of It Adds Up.” On the April 4 edition of CNBC's Squawk Box, CNBC contributor and Politico chief economic correspondent Ben White pointed out that Trump wants to “eliminate the national debt while not cutting any programs” while “cutting taxes by $10 trillion over 10 years.” White said, “None of it adds up” :
BEN WHITE: This is the problem with the entire interview he gave. He said he wants to pay off the entire $19 trillion national debt in eight years while also cutting taxes by $10 trillion over 10 years. I don't know how you do that without completely basically eliminating Social Security, Medicare, cutting all of the military. You can't do it. You don't want to do it.
He wants to at the same time eliminate the national debt while not cutting any programs and offering people more stuff. None of it adds up. [CNBC, Squawk Box, 4/4/16]
CNN's Christine Romans: “The Math, Of Course, Doesn't Work.” On the April 4 edition of CNN's Early Start, co-host Christine Romans discussed Trump's debt proposal, saying, “The math, of course, doesn't work.” Romans pointed out that Trump's plan to renegotiate trade deals to erase the debt “could start a trade war and cause a recession in the United States” :
CHRISTINE ROMANS (HOST): Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner, trashes the U.S. economy, talks down stocks, and makes some bold, incredible claims about the national debt in an interview with The Washington Post published this weekend. First, Trump says he will erase the country's $19 trillion debt by the end of his second term as president, in just eight years. Just wipe it away, $19 trillion. The math, of course, doesn't work. That would require the U.S. to pay off more than $2 trillion a year. The entire annual budget is just under $4 trillion for the current fiscal year. Trump says he will renegotiate trade deals, which would increase economic growth and wipe away the debt. But most economists say those negotiations could start a trade war and cause a recession in the United States.
But you know, to get rid of that $19 trillion debt in just eight years, it would be, really the only way you could do that was to hand every one of us a $55,000 bill and say you have to pay your share of the national debt. And that's how you could wipe it off. And then, of course, you'd have a revolt. [CNN, Early Start, 4/4/16]
Newsday's Ellis Henican: “Good Luck Finding An Economist Who Isn't Smirking” At Trump's Debt Proposal. On the April 4 edition of MSNBC's First Look, Newsday columnist Ellis Henican responded to Trump's debt proposal, saying Trump would have to cut the federal budget “in half every year for eight years” and “that wouldn't be enough” to eliminate the debt in eight years. Helican added, “Good luck finding an economist who isn't smirking” at Trump's plan:
BETTY NGUYEN (HOST): Well here's another question for you that I think is fascinating. Donald Trump says that he can eliminate, what, the $19 billion national debt, $19 trillion national debt in eight years. Do the math on this. Is that possible?
ELLIS HENICAN: OK look at it like this. The federal budget is about $4 trillion, give or take a few billions, right? So say we cut it in half every year for eight years, right? That would only be $16 trillion. So even that wouldn't be enough. Oh, by the way, plus he wants to give a whole bunch of big tax cuts, which would mean the federal government would get less money. Good luck finding an economist who isn't smirking a little bit at that. [MSNBC, First Look, 4/4/16]
NBC's Peter Alexander: Economists Consider Trump's Claim “Impossible.” During the April 4 edition of NBC's Today, NBC national correspondent Peter Alexander noted that “most economists consider” Trump's plan to eliminate the national debt in eight years “impossible.” [NBC, Today, 4/4/16]
CNN's Rana Foroohar: “I Think It Is Absolute Fabulism.” On the April 3 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN global economic analyst Rana Foroohar criticized Trump's plan, saying it is “totally unrealistic” and “absolute fabulism.” Foroohar also said the notion “that you're going to somehow really incredibly induce growth by renegotiating trade deals is also fiction” :
POPPY HARLOW (HOST): And Rana, let me begin with you, because in that interview he said to the Post the $19 trillion national debt could be eliminated in eight years if he becomes president. But when you look at how you get there, Rana, you have to cut the $4 trillion annual budget in half, make it $2 trillion. And he's also pushing for what he describes as a very big tax cut. How realistic are the claims?
RANA FOROOHAR: Totally unrealistic. I think it's absolute fabulism. You know, I think also this idea that you're going to somehow really incredibly induce growth by renegotiating trade deals is also fiction. Now I'm not saying that we don't need to rethink the rules of free trade. I think a lot of people are talking about that right now on both sides of the aisle, but the idea that the U.S. is acting in a vacuum, that there are no other players in this scenario, that China doesn't have its own agenda, that Europe don't have its own agenda, and that we can somehow, in a blanket way, make new rules is just, it's fictional. [CNN, CNN Newsroom, 4/3/16]
Mother Jones: “Is This Even Fact Checkable?” In an April 2 Mother Jones article, political blogger Kevin Drum criticized Trump's debt claim, asking if it is “even fact checkable” or is it “so nonsensical that it's 'not even wrong'” :
Trump is somehow going to start running a budget surplus of $2 trillion per year without raising taxes. How? Something to do with trade.
Is this even fact checkable? Or is it, in Wolfgang Pauli's famous words, so nonsensical that it's “not even wrong” ? In any case, I promise Trump that every quote in this post is a direct quotation. Nobody is making him say words that are totally different from what he's said. Honestly, there's no need.
However, the fact that he thinks he's being constantly misquoted really does make you wonder if he's all there. He seems awfully sincere about this. He really and truly talks in such a stream of consciousness that he doesn't even realize what he's said half the time. [Mother Jones, 4/2/16]
Boston Herald: Experts Say Trump's Plan Is “Crazy Talk” And Not “Based In Reality.” The Boston Herald reported April 4 that experts criticized Trump's “eye-grabbing” plan to erase the debt as “crazy talk” and not “based in reality” :
Republican political analyst Ford O'Connell said Trump's bold remarks suggest he's looking to score political points on an issue that is “near and dear” to mainstream Republican voters as he heads into what is shaping up to be a difficult stretch of primaries, starting with Wisconsin tomorrow, where U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is leading in polls. Trump also is seen as having taken a self-administered beating last week with his remarks suggesting women who get abortions should face punishment if the procedure is outlawed.
“I'm not saying he's not serious about cutting the national debt, but obviously this is an eye-grabbing plan as he's trying to get conservatives back in line to vote for him,” O'Connell told the Herald.
“He needed to use an 'US Weekly' headline to make sure that he's going to be able to stave off the bleeding from his projected loss in Wisconsin. He's got to find a way to reassure the base of the Republican Party that he's going to fight for the little man -- and that's why you're hearing this debt plan from him.”
Salem State University political science professor Dan Mulcare called Trump's economic forecast and national debt plan “crazy talk.”
“Like most of his proposals, this one isn't based in reality,” Mulcare said. “It doesn't make any sense when you consider the tax proposals he's putting forth. There's no way he would be able to do it.” [Boston Herald, 4/4/16]
This piece has been updated for clarity