In One Chart: Yes, tariffs are ‘pouring’ into coffers, as Trump says, but not enough to cut deficits

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President Donald Trump

Here’s a story about the president being truthful. And also, on maybe him missing the big picture.

President Donald Trump has on multiple occasions said, and tweeted, that billions would “pour into U.S. coffers” from the tariffs his administration has levied on steel and Chinese goods. In one tweet, Trump specifically called out The Wall Street Journal, a sister publication of MarketWatch.

Perhaps taking that criticism to heart, the newspaper on Friday did in fact look at the “billions pouring into coffers.” Tariff collections topped $5 billion in October, the article points out.

So that’s the good news. The bad news is, to what end?

The point, ostensibly, of tariffs is to reduce the trade deficit. The trade deficit has not, in fact, gone down, reaching a 10-year high in October, according to data released this week.

But it’s also fair to point out that the U.S.-China talks are ongoing. Those talks could in time lead to better terms for U.S. companies to operate in China. After dubbing himself this week as “Tariff Man,” by Friday Trump said talks were going well. Time will tell.

The other point about money going into the coffers is to reduce the budget deficit, which has exploded under Trump due to the tax cuts he embraced and the spending increases he signed into law.

The budget deficit was $100 billion in October, but the monthly number does jump around, so in fairness it’s better to look at the broader picture. Unfortunately, the bigger picture isn’t rosy either. In the 12 months ending October, the budget deficit widened to $68 billion from $64.9 billion. So while the tariffs did in fact surge, it wasn’t by enough to improve the nation’s fiscal situation.

In short, yes, tariff revenue is coming into the U.S. Treasury, and the president isn’t exaggerating when he says that’s by the “billions.” But it’s not enough to prevent either the trade or budget deficit from deteriorating.

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