Donald Trump has made no secret of his affinity for debt. Now, the self-styled "king of debt" is saying the American government should follow his lead, especially in the current low-interest-rate environment.
"The interest rates are so low, I mean, the numbers are so low, that yes, this is the time to borrow and to borrow long-term," the Republican presidential nominee said in an interview this week with CNBC. He argued that the U.S. could use these cheaply-borrowed funds to invest in the military and, more importantly, infrastructure. "You'd be paying so little interest right now. This is the time to borrow."
Trump isn't the first to float the idea of the U.S. taking on debt to foot the bill for different projects. Harvard University economist and former member of both the Clinton and Obama administrations Larry Summers has made such an argument in the past, and New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman made a similar case in an op-ed just this week.
"I think in general it's a thing that [Trump] probably picked up on because a lot of people have been talking about this," said Gregory Daco, head of U.S. macroeconomics at Oxford Economics. "Given that there is a great need to refurbish a lot of the infrastructure in the U.S., conditions are indeed optimal from a cost perspective and from a borrowing perspective."
Those on both sides of the aisle agree that infrastructure investment is needed in America.
Senators Chris Murphy and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, and Bob Corker and Roy Blunt, Republicans, are among those in Congress to have proposed infrastructure legislation in recent years. A recent poll found that nearly half of Americans believe the nation's infrastructure has deteriorated.
Still, a deadlock in Congress has kept meaningful legislation from being passed. And a resistance to adding anything to the already nearly $20 trillion debt does not make compromise any easier.
"It's unfortunate we've been locked into this deficit-phobia," said Dean Baker, economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic Policy and Research.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the current debt-to-GDP ratio in the U.S. is 75%, while the 50-year average is 39%. Some say such a ratio, or one that is even higher, is unsustainable and could eventually lead to exceedingly high interest rates and inflation. Baker says that while that is a possibility, such fears are overblown.
"This idea that a high debt-to-GDP ratio is in and of itself a huge problem is really just nonsense," he said. "It's incredibly cheap to borrow, and there's very little reason not to do it."
Aaron Klein, fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution and former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Treasury, agreed.
"The economics are clear, the rest of the world is willing to lend to the U.S. government at extremely low interest rates. If you can invest that money wisely, you can grow the economy and make the country a better place," said Klein, who is a member of an infrastructure advisory group to the Clinton campaign.
Others, however, are not of the same mindset and say increased borrowing -- to fund infrastructure or anything for that matter -- would do damage to the U.S. economy.
"If we had a plan to invest in infrastructure today and pay it off over time...that would be good for growth. But you can't just keep borrowing to do it, it's not going to work long-run," said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Infrastructure spending has traditionally been one of the few areas Congress has required to pay for itself, through items like a gas tax or airport tax. It has also often been left to state and local governments to take care of.
"That's a much cheaper and more transparent way to do it," said Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute.
Jim Dorn, vice president for monetary studies and senior fellow at Cato, said if the federal government does want to invest in infrastructure, it should look to reduce spending elsewhere, not borrow. "If you cut other things and it's a positive net return, that's a good investment," he said.
Both Trump and Hillary Clinton have laid out major infrastructure investment plans. His has a $500 billion price tag, hers $275 billion. The question, moving forward, is how they'll pay for them, and experts are split on whether his borrowing idea is a good one.