by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Living in New York City, it’s likely that President-elect Donald Trump had a chance at some point to watch the popular Broadway show about Alexander Hamilton. Now Randall Forsyth of Barron’s urges Trump to emulate Hamilton in one important way: shoring up the nation’s long-term financial picture.
Trump could use a modern Hamilton as he contemplates America’s heavy debt burden and its need for faster economic growth. The federal government today has $14 trillion in debt owed to the public. If the Trump administration were to add no spending programs and cut no taxes, the rising costs of existing programs like Medicare and Medicaid would likely push the national debt to $45 trillion in 20 years’ time. So says the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The annual interest on a $45 trillion debt load would be about $750 billion at today’s superlow interest rates. If rates rise to a more typical level, the interest on a $45 trillion debt would be about $1.5 trillion a year. That’s right, $1.5 trillion a year in interest payments, as much as the federal government’s total spending over the past five months.
And that’s before President-elect Trump launches his ambitious spending programs and tax cuts, which are expected to add $6 trillion to the national debt over the coming decade. We expect some, but not all, of those proposals will be blocked by the Republican Congress.
Given the incoming administration’s ambitious plans, and the nation’s already high debt, the president-elect might ask: What would Hamilton do?
With long-term interest rates hovering near their lowest levels since the founding of the republic, Hamilton might well answer, Take advantage by issuing Treasury bonds now—and for the longest term possible.
In today’s market, that would mean issuing securities far beyond the Treasury’s current lengthiest maturity of 30 years. Unlike his less-hidebound foreign counterparts, Uncle Sam has been resistant to departing from long-established borrowing habits. Meanwhile, governments such as Ireland, Belgium, and even Mexico have been opportunistic by issuing 100-year bonds.