- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2020

The federal government spent a stunning $6.6 trillion in fiscal year 2020, and had to borrow nearly half that, sending taxpayers far deeper into debt, administration officials said Friday.

The $3.1 trillion deficit is more than twice the previous record set under President George W. Bush and President Obama in the wake of the Great Recession.

Revenue dipped slightly last year compared to 2019, but the real damage came on the spending side where President Trump and Congress opened the country’s wallet and shoveled out cash to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Administration officials said that heavy spending has actually helped limit the economic impacts of the pandemic.

“Thanks to President Trump’s pro-growth policies and the bipartisan CARES Act, we are experiencing a strong economic recovery,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

The fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

Heading into the year, the administration had projected steady growth. It saw revenue rising from $3.5 trillion to $3.7 trillion, and spending go from $4.4 trillion to $4.8 trillion.

Instead, revenue dipped to $3.4 trillion, while spending skyrocketed to $6.6 trillion.

The government’s debt held by the public topped $21 trillion on Sept. 30. That’s up from about $14 trillion when Mr. Trump took office four years ago, marking by far the largest increase in any presidential term in history.

Total federal debt, including borrowing from the government’s own trust funds, now tops $27 trillion.

Spending increased nearly across the board, though the Justice Department recorded a dip in outlays.

Despite the new highs, spending and debt have been almost absent from the ongoing presidential campaign.

Experts said the hefty bill can’t only be laid at the feet of the pandemic. Even before the additional surge in spending, the deficit was projected to be about $1 trillion this year, and was projected to be at $1 trillion a year for the foreseeable future.

“While there are many justifications for the $2 trillion in spending to combat a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, there’s no justification for recurring trillion-dollar deficits that we would have had even without this crisis,” said Michael Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation.

He said once the pandemic has been wrestled under control, the president and Congress must focus on the debt.

Neither Mr. Trump nor Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden has presented a credible plan for cutting deficits and reducing the debt load.

And neither has a particularly good track record.

While Mr. Biden was vice president, federal debt held by the public went from $6.3 trillion to $14.4 trillion, or an average of $1 trillion a year.

During the first three years of Mr. Trump’s tenure, debt also rose about $1 trillion a year. But thanks to a $4.2 trillion leap in 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Trump is now averaging nearly $1.8 trillion a year.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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