Which presidential candidate would be the biggest budget-buster? Bernie Sanders, the welfare-state socialist? Hillary Clinton, the activist-government Democrat? Any of a passel of no-new-taxes Republicans? Nope. It’s the self-styled arch-conservative, Donald Trump.
The front-running Republican makes lavish promises to boost spending on immigration, the military, veterans and other causes while cutting taxes for the middle class and resisting proposals for offsetting savings.
He’s not one for offering lots of policy specifics and it may be too much to ask for a populist firebrand to exhibit fiscal responsibility. Still, Trump makes plenty of proposals. It’s fair to wonder how much they’d cost.
The most detailed Trump plank is on immigration, including plans to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and to erect a 1,900-mile wall along the Mexican border. Jeb Bush has said those would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Some analysts say that’s a conservative estimate.
Trump has also vowed to build up the U.S. military, charging that enemies know America “is getting weaker.” That’s big-ticket budgeting. He boasts he'll exceed the efforts of President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain to help veterans. In New Hampshire, he promised to build “a full-service, first-class VA hospital.” Not cheap. Other early caucus or primary states probably can expect similar promises of largesse.
The money apparently won’t come from trimming entitlements. “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” Trump insists.
He has pledged to eliminate the carried-interest loophole that reduces taxes for private-equity and hedge-fund executives. He implies that would help finance a big middle class tax cut. It wouldn’t help much. Cutting taxes by 1 percentage point for the middle class would cost about $500 billion over a decade, the Congressional Budget Office says. Ending the carried- interest exemption would raise about $2 billion a year, according to the U.S. Treasury.
And he’s talked about allowing companies to repatriate foreign income at a lower tax rate. That’s what Obama has proposed too, to raise revenue for spending on infrastructure. Trump sounds enthusiastic. “I know how to build,” he likes to say.
Trump has threatened to slap tariffs on Chinese and other imports, suggesting that would provide cash and improve American competitiveness. More likely it would raise the cost of products to American consumers without those accompanying benefits.
Sanders has made lavish spending promises and also wouldn’t cut entitlements. He has, however, also promised huge offsetting tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, however unrealistically. Similarly, Republicans who forswear tax increases propose all sorts of unlikely spending reductions to keep the budget under control.
Budget control? On that topic Trump, uncharacteristically, doesn’t have much to say.
Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.
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