Federal Borrowing Amid Pandemic Puts U.S. Debt on Path to Exceed World War II

Yet while Mr. Trump, as a candidate in 2016, famously pledged to pay off the entire national debt in eight years, he and his fellow speakers during this year’s Republican National Convention did not raise the deficit issue at all. Mr. Trump’s most recent budget proposal, offered before the pandemic spread rapidly in the United States, did not include a balanced budget even if he were to win re-election.

For decades, analysts argued that an explosion of government borrowing risked devouring a large part of the nation’s savings, leaving less cash available for private businesses to use for investment.

Those companies would then be forced to pay higher interest rates to gain access to that smaller pool of funds. And those higher borrowing costs, it was argued, would curtail investment and hurt economic growth. The process is known as “crowding out,” and there is no sign that it is happening now. Interest rates remain low and inflation is muted.

“We’re in an era where more government debt is not doing so much crowding out,” said Douglas Elmendorf, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and the current dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

“I think the idea that we should not let the debt constrain our response to the pandemic is exactly right,” he said. “But I think the idea that it never matters how much debt you have, because there’s always some way around that, is wrong.”

Even some fiscal hawks, like Ms. MacGuineas and Michael A. Peterson, the chief executive of the debt-focused Peterson Foundation, say lawmakers should continue to spend for now, while targeting their efforts more effectively to help the economy recover. Eventually, they say, that spending will need to yield to debt reduction.

“When this devastating pandemic is behind us,” Mr. Peterson said, “our leaders must come together to address our growing debt so the next generation can have better preparedness and greater prosperity.”

Matt Phillips and Jeanna Smialek contributed reporting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *