Trump can’t keep up with all his promises — and neither can the US budget

Trump can't keep up with all his promises - and neither can the US budget

A quarter-century ago, when gender stereotypes held more power, pundit Chris Matthews applied them to partisan conflict: Democrats as "Mommy," Republicans as "Daddy."

The shorthand tracked the emerging gender gap and old political behavior patterns. Empathetic Democrats indulged constituents with deficit-wrecking benefit programs; stern Republicans imposed fiscal discipline.

But President Donald Trump's new administration culminates a role reversal. Just as changing attitudes have altered sex roles in society, so have the parties scrambled the roles of budgetary indulgence and discipline.

Democratic leaders since the Clinton era have worked to match ends with means. Republicans — and most conspicuously Trump — have practiced profligacy in word and deed. With modern conservatism ruling out tax increases, making expensive promises add up has slipped lower on their priority list.

Each of the last three Republican presidents left office with higher deficits than he started with. President Bill Clinton saw a deficit turn into surplus, while President Barack Obama saw it fall by two-thirds as a share of the economy.

Obama built the Affordable Care Act with tax hikes sufficient to prevent a long-term deficit increase. When he added a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare, President George W. Bush did not. Nor did Bush come up with new revenue to finance the Iraq War, instead tacking it on to the deficit.

That pattern continued in the 2016 campaign. Hillary Clinton linked proposed spending increases to sources of funding. Trump did not.

The Republican nominee called for an infrastructure plan nearly four times as large as Clinton's, as well as higher military spending. He promised a massive tax cut, while insisting he would not touch the giant entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. On health care, he promised universal coverage with lower premiums and smaller deductibles.

Clinton warned that Trump would "explode the deficit." That cast her in the role of Ricky Ricardo chiding his wife in a memorable 1950s "I Love Lucy" episode: "Do you think the money just grows on trees?"

Trump's promise-everything approach left him resembling Lucy in that episode — grabbing chocolates from a speeding assembly line and stuffing them in her mouth and blouse.

"We're going to have insurance for everybody," Trump said. "There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it. That's not going to happen with us."

But Trump couldn't keep up with all those promises any better than Lucy could pocket all those chocolates.

His rhetoric crashed against reality in the recently failed Republican health-care bill. The Congressional Budget Office concluded the bill would leave 24 million more Americans without insurance, raise deductibles, and increase premiums for older beneficiaries. The only reason the bill wouldn't have increased the deficit is that it broke Trump's promise to leave Medicaid alone.

Which promises Trump eventually keeps will determine whether the rest of his agenda makes deficits go up. Wall Street bets it will, assuming new tax cuts and spending will stimulate growth. The leader of the House Freedom Caucus, which touts its opposition to deficits, says some more red ink for tax cuts might be OK.

That would fit the behavior of real-life mommies and daddies. Research by Experian has found that men, on average, have higher debt, more late payments and lower credit scores than women.

Society has noticed. In 2014, researchers at William Paterson University found one gender stereotype had significantly eased since a corresponding 1983 study — the one that singled out men as handling finances.