Deficit hawks

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, should continue to insist that any tax bill not increase the federal debt.

Susan Walsh, AP

President Donald Trump scolded the media back in February for not reporting that the national debt had fallen by $12 billion during his first month in office, compared to an increase of $200 billion during former President Barack Obama’s first 30 days in the White House.

The numbers in Trump’s tweet were accurate but meaningless, which is why they didn’t garner lots of news coverage (though the president apparently learned about them by watching Fox News).

The precise size of the national debt fluctuates from month to month, financial experts quickly pointed out. But the clear and unmistakable trend is that America’s debt continues to climb.

It topped $20 trillion for the first time last month, according to the Treasury Department, and stood at $20.3 trillion as of Tuesday.

That’s more than $400 billion higher than in February, when President Trump sent his self-congratulatory tweet, which Politifact.org described as “highly misleading.”

More important, the Republican president has shown little interest in controlling the debt since then, as it rises ever higher.

Trump’s plan to overhaul the tax code is just the latest example. The president last week promised a “giant, beautiful, massive” tax cut that the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget predicts will add $2.2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, long a champion for addressing the nation’s out-of-control debt, is starting to hedge on whether he would support an overhaul of the tax code that runs up the annual budget deficit further. That’s disappointing.

The Trump administration claims tax cuts will stimulate the economy and bring in enough new revenue to offset lower rates. But the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, led by former Republican Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Democratic presidential adviser Leon Panetta, as well as other fiscally responsible groups, disagree.

“As is, the plan would add a substantial amount to the federal debt, and it would be impossible to offset this amount solely through higher economic growth,” according to the committee’s website.

The good news is that at least a few Republicans who railed against soaring debt when a Democrat was in charge are still consistently raising concerns now. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he will not vote for any tax plan that adds to the federal deficit.

“If it looks like to me it’s adding one penny to the deficit,” Corker said, “I am not going to be for it. OK? I’m sorry. It is the greatest threat to our nation.”

Corker isn’t running for re-election, making it easier for him to do the right thing. Similarly, Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, has made the debt one of his top issues and doesn’t plan to run for office again. Johnson told the Madison Area Builders Association last week he wouldn’t support a tax cut that increases the national debt.

Good. The convoluted tax code is in dire need of simplification. But any changes should be revenue neutral so future generations of Americans aren’t stuck with an even bigger and more burdensome pile of IOUs.

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