To say we're all being played by House and Senate Republicans and the Trump administration when it comes to the deficit is my polite way of saying that the GOP is operating the federal equivalent of a huge budget bunco game.
Think of it as three-card monte with you betting billions on which card is the queen of hearts and you'll get the idea.
The Congressional Budget Office last Monday released a report that for the first time officially projected the federal deficit rising to almost $1 trillion in 2019 and then staying at or well above that previously unfathomable level every year through 2028.
As I first pointed out in this post, these projections almost certainly underestimate the actual deficit that will occur because CBO assumes that current law will be followed. In this case, that means assuming that the individual cuts put in place by last year's tax bill that are set to phase out will, in fact, expire as scheduled. As Catherine Rampell noted in the Washington Post last Friday, if, as seems likely, the cuts are extended, the budget deficit will be an additional $2.6 trillion higher than what CBO estimated.
Just a few months after the tax bill was signed, the GOP-controlled Congress agreed to increase federal spending and the budget deficit by another $130 billion or so.
Think about this. The same congressional Republicans who over the previous eight years wanted everyone to believe they were fiscal conservatives hell-bent on balancing the budget and not increasing the national debt, sponsored, passed and then danced around the fire because of legislation that will result in a permanent $1 trillion deficit and a debt that will soar to close to 100 percent of GDP by 2028.
And...House and Senate Republicans were enabled by a GOP president who during his campaign said he would eliminate the deficit and completely pay off the debt.
But it's not just that congressional Republicans and Trump faked far right and then actually went far left with these two bills that makes what they're doing a federal budget confidence game. They also:
1. Hid the real cost of the tax cut with the phaseouts so they could claim they were being fiscally judicious while they were actually being economically reckless.
2. First insisted the tax cuts would pay for themselves and then admitted in the president's fiscal 2019 budget released several months later that they would actually increase the deficit, big-time.
3. Viciously attacked the nonpartisan and very credible Congressional Budget Office for not producing cost estimates that made it easier for them to do what they wanted.
4. Enacted a huge tax cut that skyrocketed the deficit and a $1.3 trillion fiscal 2019 omnibus appropriation that increased it further and then insisted that the real problem is Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
5. Continually complained about mandatory spending but, even though they had the majority in both houses of Congress and control of the White House, didn't seriously try to do anything about it.
6. Refused to do a fiscal 2019 budget resolution because, after first enacting the tax and spending legislation that blasted the annual federal budget deficit to over $1 trillion, didn't want GOP members to have go on record in favor of those same deficits.
7. Kept saying that the deficit problem was because the congressional budget process is broken when, in fact, the process has actually enabled the GOP House and Senate Republican majorities to do exactly what they've wanted to do and hasn't forced them to do anything they've wanted to avoid.
8. First enacted legislation that created the permanent trillion-dollar deficits and then had the unmitigated temerity to demand that the House vote on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would make it illegal for the federal government to run deficits.
9. Implied that the tax cuts and military spending increases they support (and the growing interest payments on the debt caused by those tax cuts and military spending increases) don't have an impact on the deficit.
10. Made it clear that, at the same time they want to reduce revenues and increase funds for the Pentagon, only the domestic part of the budget should be cut.
Just like winning a game of three-card monte played on a cardboard box on a street corner, none of what we're being told about the budget by congressional Republicans and the Trump White House is real. But based on how they've operated so far, they obviously think they can keep running this game successfully.