Analysis

Trump's Expensive Wish List

Never one to care much about the debt or deficits, the president has proposed a variety of big-ticket expenditures.

President Trump during a rally at the Rivertowne Marina in Cincinnati on June 7, 2017
AP Photo/John Minchillo
Dec. 13, 2018, 8 p.m.

President Trump never really bought into the Republican orthodoxy on spending and deficits. When he did talk about the need for fiscal discipline, it was only sporadic and half-hearted. The self-proclaimed “king of debt,” Trump the candidate made some unserious promises in 2016, pledging to eliminate the deficit “relatively quickly” and to get rid of the national debt, which was then approaching $20 trillion, “over a period of eight years.” All that, he added, would be accomplished without touching Social Security or Medicare spending.

As president, he continued in his first few months to pay lip service to the goal of a balanced budget. Even that pretense was abandoned when he prepared his budget for the current fiscal year. As president, he championed tax cuts that experts predicted would balloon the deficit, and oversaw an explosion of federal spending that further worsened the imbalance. That approach continues as Trump demands more spending to prevent a government shutdown next week and as he prepares his fiscal 2020 budget to be submitted in less than two months.

Here are 10 of the most notable budget-buster programs that he pushed in his first two years in office, plus one he wanted but reluctantly gave up for one year:

The border wall

Nobody agrees how much it would cost to secure the needed land and build Trump’s wall, and the president continues to contend that, in the end, Mexico will pay. In the campaign, Trump said it would cost $25 billion. Last week, he said it could be as low as $15 billion. The Homeland Security Department in February put the cost at $21.6 billion. The Government Accountability Office said costs would start at $18 billion for the first 722 miles. The Democratic staff of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee issued a report contending it would cost $70 billion to build and $150 million a year to maintain.

The Space Force

Trump in June ordered the Pentagon to create a sixth branch of the military—the Space Force. He asked Congress for $8 billion to stand up the branch. Ever since, the Pentagon has been trying to figure out the true cost. The Air Force has estimated $12.9 billion. A deputy Defense secretary later said it would cost only $5 billion to launch the force, with an annual budget of $21.5 billion. The Center for Strategic and International Studies issued a study concluding that if the branch takes staffers from existing agencies, the cost could be as low as $1.5 to $2.7 billion. Congress, which has to approve any new branch, will have to sort through the dueling estimates.

Bail out farmers hurt by Trump’s tariffs

Farmers were perhaps the biggest victims of the tariffs championed by the president. But since those same farmers were some of his biggest supporters, he made sure the blow was softened by $12 billion in bailout payments. The Agriculture Department said the payments would go to producers of soybeans, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, dairy, and hogs.

Business and individual tax cuts

The Congressional Budget Office said the Republican tax cuts would increase the national debt by $1.9 trillion over the next 10 years, costing the government $2.3 trillion in revenues. The CBO increased its estimate of the 2018 deficit by $242 billion, citing the tax cut. The House Ways and Means Committee said $1 trillion of the lost revenue would come from the business tax cuts and $300 billion from individual tax cuts.

Troops sent to the border

The Pentagon disclosed on Nov. 20 that the cost so far to move and house 5,900 active-duty troops to new duties along the southern border had already hit $72 million. The total cost of the mission is expected to be around $220 million.

Repeal of the estate tax

Repeal of the estate tax is expected to cost the treasury $269 billion over 10 years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Increase in military spending

Trump was so happy with his success in boosting military spending that he even bragged about it to little kids at the White House Easter Egg Roll. “The funding or our military was so important and so many military people are with us today, so just think of $700 billion, because that’s all going into our military this year,” he told the kids. Later, he talked of holding the Pentagon to $700 billion in next year’s budget. Then that was revised to $733 billion only to be shifted upwards to a spending topline of $750 billion for another big spending increase.

Make individual tax cuts permanent

Tax cuts for individuals are set to expire by 2025. Republicans want to make them permanent, adding another $630 billion to the deficit by 2029, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation.

A new 10 percent tax cut

The president sprang this proposal during the recent campaign, with no studies of what it entails. MarketWatch estimates that it would cost at least $83 billion a year.

Rebuild the nation’s infrastructure

When the White House unveiled its infrastructure plan, it fell far short of the $1.15 trillion the president talked about. It proposed spending $200 billion over 10 years, primarily in competitive grants to get local governments to spend more on infrastructure projects.

And, the one he gave up: a big military parade

The president really, really wanted a big military parade in Washington. For months, he ignored reports that it would be a wasteful and big expenditure. Only in August, when he was told it would cost $92 million, did he relent, calling the price tag “so ridiculously high that I canceled it.” He hasn’t given up, though, and hopes to revive parade plans next year.

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