Ready for big drama over spending and debt? Divided government will make everything worse.

What do this week’s election results mean for the deficit, national debt, government spending and fiscal melodrama in Washington? There’s going to be much more of each one.

The House under Democratic control and the Senate with a larger Republican majority means that an already a difficult federal budget situation will be even more difficult in the next Congress. Add in a Trump White House in reelection mode, and the federal budget outlook is clearly much worse.

There are five reasons.

First, if there are no changes and federal spending and revenues are left on autopilot because there’s a stalemate among the House, Senate and White House, the budget deficit will balloon to more than $1 trillion a year … and stay there. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit will be at or well above that level for every year through at least 2028.

Budget agreements might increase deficit

Second, to the extent there are any budget-related agreements between House Democrats and Senate Republicans over the next two years, they are likely to be on things that will increase the deficit even further. The new Republican Senate and Democratic House will each demand that their spending preferences be accommodated before they will agree to support what the other wants. The result could either be that nothing gets added to the already soaring deficit outlook, or they pile on billions more.

Third, fiscal transparency and accountability will take a big hit because Congress will now be even less likely to adopt a budget. Even though it is required by law to do so, the House and Senate will have such different spending and taxing agendas that finding a compromise that can pass both chambers will be a long shot at best. In addition, having no budget will mean every Republican and Democrat will be able to avoid voting in favor of those trillion-dollar-plus deficits and their leaders won’t have to beg them to do so.

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Fourth, the drama surrounding the budget will increase exponentially with appropriations fights, potential and actual government shutdowns and debt ceiling showdowns now even more likely than they were before as Senate Republicans, House Democrats and the Trump White House all jockey for position and maneuver for leverage on a variety of issues. As a result, getting all 12 appropriations bills enacted by the start of the fiscal year (Oct. 1 of each calendar year) will now be even less probable than it has been in recent years.

Fifth, Trump will have far less incentive to compromise with Congress on spending and taxing issues than he did before. For example, he previously was willing to delay until after the election his demand for funding for a wall between the United States and Mexico because GOP leaders asked. But departing Republican Speaker Paul Ryan looks likely to be replaced by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom Trump and the Republicans demonized throughout the campaign. That won’t be as easy or desirable (and may not be as politically acceptable) for the White House as dealing with Ryan.

Trump may prefer confrontation to compromise 

What makes all this worse is that it’s hard to see this dismal federal budget outlook improving over the next few years. Not only will there be no imperative for Congress and Trump to reduce the deficit, it’s far more likely that, if anything, they will increase it further.

If an economic downturn occurs, the House, Senate and White House will be racing to be the first to propose spending increases and tax reductions to deal with it. And it’s virtually impossible to imagine that either side would accept the one budget deal that would make a serious dent in the deficit — where House Democrats agree to cut Social Security and Medicare in exchange for Senate Republicans agreeing to corporate tax increases and military reductions.

There’s also the question of whether Trump, as he moves increasingly into reelection mode over the next two years, will be more interested in confrontation than compromise with House Democrats on anything.

It’s going to be brutal two years.

Stan Collender, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, teaches federal budgeting at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University and is the founder of thebudgetguy.blog. Follow him on Twitter: @TheBudgetGuy

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