It’s a tribute to Stan Collender, also known as The Budget Guy, that a column he wrote about the federal deficit was USA TODAY’s fourth most read original opinion piece of 2018. Just to put that in perspective, numbers one through three were about suicide, Brett Kavanaugh and school shootings.
Stan, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, died Friday night at 68, his wife Maura McGinn said in an email. He had been battling Merkel Cell cancer and participating in clinical trials for several years. In a 2017 column for USA TODAY, he made the case for more trials and urged patients to set aside their apprehensions and participate whenever they had a chance. “It was the best decision I ever made,” he wrote.
No one was more surprised than his editors when Stan’s 2018 column on the deficit went viral. Headlined “Trump trillion-dollar-plus deficits are putting America on a path to fiscal ruin,” it was based on a monthly statement from the Treasury Department that few people if any had noticed.
A veteran of the House and Senate budget committee staffs, Stan studied the numbers, concluded the problem was structural and not due to temporary circumstances, and warned that “the Trump deficits that will soon reach and exceed $1 trillion are permanent and will only get worse in the years ahead.”
Stan wrote a number of columns on government shutdowns and the depressing development that they had become “a politically acceptable tactic for Congress and the White House.” They used to be black swans, he wrote, “but now they are more like the common pigeons you see everywhere all the time.” And then he explained why.
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On Jan. 4, Stan correctly predicted how the latest government shutdown would end in a column headlined: “Empathy won’t move Trump. It’ll take pain, tragedy and Republican desertions.”
“No doubt he’s never worried about paying for rent, groceries, tuition, a credit card or a doctor bill, or had to wait for a tax refund check,” he said of the president. “And who among us thinks Trump has ever been a routine visitor to national parks or Smithsonian museums, which are now closed to the public because of the shutdown?”
In his last column for USA TODAY, published Jan. 14, Stan said Trump was punishing the country even though “he had a big out” — his love of superlatives. He urged Trump to brag about setting a record for the longest shutdown and just reopen the darn government.
It was a perfect example of his deep knowledge of government, budgets, politics and political psychology, all conveyed in conversational, humorous and compelling prose.
His voice will be sorely missed.
Stan Collender, who died May 3, was a widely published budget expert who founded the popular Budget Guy blog, tweeted @thebudgetguy and was a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. His family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations in Stan’s name be made to the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, where he taught federal budgeting.