President Donald Trump promised to eliminate the national debt during his campaign, but he said Friday that building up the military is more important.
Total public debt outstanding topped $22 trillion earlier this week, with nearly $2.1 trillion coming under Trump's watch.
When touting his plans to stimulate the economy, Trump insisted that the growth — which would come from tax cuts, less regulation and greater infrastructure spending — would offset debt and eventually eliminate the national IOU. However, Congressional Budget Office projections indicate that the budget deficit will only grow in the years ahead, pushing the debt ever higher and eventually reaching about 150 percent of GDP in the next 30 years.
Asked during a White House news conference Friday about the red ink, Trump said military spending has taken priority.
"But first I have to straighten out the military. The military was depleted," he said.
"If we don't have a strong military, you don't have to worry about debt, you have bigger problems," he added.
Trump also pointed out that his predecessor, Barack Obama, incurred more debt "than any other president combined," which isn't quite accurate.
Obama took office with a $10.6 trillion debt, which ran to $19.9 trillion by the time his second term ended in January 2017, a $9.3 trillion difference. The debt expanded under Obama in part due to fiscal stimulus the government enacted to pull the country out of the Great Recession.
Trump on Friday continued to tout the growth theme, saying it was evident in the reduction of the national trade deficit in November, the first time that had happened after five straight months of increases.
"Everybody said, what happened? Well, what's happening is growth," Trump said. "But before I can focus too much on that, a very big expense is military, and we have no choice but to straighten out our military."