April 26, 2015

Posts on federal budget

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 8:34 AM

Throughout this painfully prolonged economic recovery, economic developments as they are reported have often been confusing. They seem to send mixed messages about the best courses of action for fiscal policy.

Sometimes we are told that more personal spending (consumption) would be good, and sometimes we are told we need to save more. Sometimes we are told that we need to reduce the government budget deficit, and sometimes we are told that continued deficit spending is needed to avoid a double-dip recession.

So what should we be doing with fiscal policy right now -- consolidating or stimulating?

The most recent economic news is that the economy’s overall growth rate has slowed and is falling short of expectations (2.2 percent annual growth rate of GDP for first quarter of 2012 compared with 3 percent in the prior quarter and 2.5 percent expected). Personal spending has slowed as well (0.3 percent monthly growth in March, down from 0.9 percent the prior month and below the 0.5 percent expected). Job gains have also weakened and are not keeping pace with the natural growth in the working-age population.

This news suggests that more private consumption spending, encouraged by continued stimulative, deficit-financed government spending and tax cuts, is needed to further expand...

Monday, April 2, 2012 - 12:00 AM

A rare display of bipartisan fiscal cooperation broke out on Capitol Hill last week when 38 House members (22 Democrats and 16 Republicans) braved an onslaught of interest group pressure to vote in favor of a budget resolution designed to rein in the deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. The budget plan, offered by Representatives Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Steven LaTourette (R-OH) as an amendment to the House budget resolution, was based on the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission. It came 15 months after a bipartisan majority of that commission put forth a credible and comprehensive plan to address the deficit and was the first budget plan based on the commission’s work to come up for a vote in the House or Senate.

While the nays on the Cooper-LaTourette amendment outnumbered the yeas by 10 to 1, the very existence of a bipartisan budget alternative signaled an important breakthrough. It demonstrated growing frustration with the starkly partisan plans that members are routinely pressured to choose from and established a framework upon which future bipartisan efforts can be built.

There is little doubt that future efforts will be needed.

Legislation will have to be enacted by the end of the year unless Congress and the President want to allow all expiring tax...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 9:58 AM

For the fourth time in four years, President Obama has tucked a little gem of a tax policy proposal into his budget: the proposal to limit the tax benefit of itemized deductions to 28 percent.  It’s a great idea because it would reduce a large tax subsidy (i.e., “tax expenditure”) for those who need it least, improve the economic efficiency of the tax code and raise revenues that could be used as part of a deficit-reduction package. Last year the Congressional Budget Office estimated the president's proposal would raise $293 billion over 10 years. A more ambitious version limiting itemized deductions to a 15 percent rate, as presented in the CBO's compendium of budget options, would raise $1.2 trillion over 10 years -- in other words, equivalent to trimming overall tax expenditures (which are over $1 trillion per year) by about 10 percent through that one policy change alone.

This year, however, the Obama Administration went bolder on their general theme of reducing tax expenditures for high-income households and proposed the 28 percent limit not only for itemized deductions but also for foreign-excluded income, tax-exempt interest, employer-sponsored health insurance, retirement contributions, and “selected” above-the-line deductions.  All these current tax preferences would be limited to that...

Monday, December 12, 2011 - 1:00 AM

If Congress were to simply follow the budget path laid out in current law, the federal government might escape some of its widely anticipated fiscal problems over the next few years. But that is a big “if,” as became clear Friday at a forum at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

In the keynote speech, Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, said he was more optimistic than many economists about the nation’s prospects and the likelihood that Washington would move the country onto a more sustainable track.

Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition, offered a more guarded assessment of the nation’s fiscal problems and noted the possibility that elected officials could stray far from the promising budget path laid out by current law. “The catch is following through,” he said.

The forum was sponsored by the law school, the Whittemore School of Business and Economics, the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, and Concord. It was part of “Next-Generation Matters,” a series of conversations in New Hampshire about the country’s economic future.

Despite this year’s political squabbles over increasing the federal debt limit, Zandi said, elected officials in both parties see the need to...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - 7:49 AM

The “dynamic scoring” debate is back again. Last week the House Ways and Means Committee—chaired by Dave Camp (R-MI), who also happens to be a member of the debt-limit deal’s “super committee”—held a hearing on the subject, calling on the Joint Committee on Taxation’s chief of staff, economist Tom Barthold, to explain why that committee still estimates the revenue effects of tax legislation using “static” methods.

The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery reported on this “old battle,” wondering out loud whether the super committee will resort to dynamic scoring as a “magic elixir that greases the skids to a more far-reaching compromise.”

Well, unfortunately for certain policymakers, dynamic scoring is not so magical.

“Dynamic scoring” refers to revenue estimates that would be...

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 12:00 AM

President Obama deserves credit for putting Medicare and Medicaid on the table for deficit-reduction efforts and for encouraging the new super committee to exceed its assigned goal. But the President’s  new proposals to that panel, released today, fall short of comprehensive structural reform in health care and tax policy, and his decision to leave Social Security out of the plan is disappointing as well.

Amid growing concerns about a double-dip recession, the administration has focused this month largely on short-term measures to support the economy. These measures should not preclude putting long-term deficit reduction plans in place, and in fact such plans can dramatically boost the effectiveness of the short-term initiatives.

So Obama’s suggestion that Washington proceed on both the short- and long-term fronts is welcome.  So is his willingness to discuss changes in Medicare and Medicaid, two of the federal government’s largest and most rapidly growing programs. Significant changes will be needed in those programs  if the nation is to have any hope of eventually putting itself on a more responsible and sustainable fiscal course.

The proposals to change other mandatory spending programs, such as cutting agriculture subsidies and increased cost-sharing in...

Monday, August 15, 2011 - 12:00 AM

 

This post originally appeared on The American Square

Twelve official members of the new joint congressional committee charged with reducing federal budget deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years have been named. What remains to be seen is whether an unofficial, but crucial, 13th member will be included in the committee’s deliberation – the American public.

Most of the deficit reduction negotiations this year have taken place behind closed doors and none of it has gone beyond Washington horse-trading to engage the public in any meaningful way. Exchanging shop-worn, poll-tested talking points on cable TV is not “public engagement.”

We watched the debt ceiling debate with horror as politicians played “Chicken” with our nation’s creditworthiness. Business leaders warned that the possibility of default, in one form or another, would create a ripple effect through the economy with lasting negative consequences. To top it off, even with the deal that was eventually reached, Standard & Poor’s dropped the U.S. from its list of AAA sovereign nations over concerns that political intransigence in Washington would stand in the way of meaningful solutions.

The new committee has an opportunity to...

Monday, August 8, 2011 - 4:55 PM

Members of the new Congressional Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction will have a threshold decision to make: Do they want to take their mandate seriously?

If the answer is yes, they will likely have to make decisions in the public interest that will not sit well with the party leaders who appointed them. If the answer is no, they will heighten public frustration with the political process and risk deep automatic cuts in programs many of them care about.

Which should it be?

The answer is obvious. In hard times, the national interest always tops narrow or partisan concerns. And yet, pressure on members of the committee to fiercely protect the interests of favored constituencies will be enormous. It has already begun in the form of intense lobbying of party leaders to only appoint “safe” members who are firmly opposed to compromise. 

Arrayed against this pressure is the stark reality that we can’t fund future spending commitments with today’s level of taxation. Unless someone steps up to the challenge of reconciling the competing values and needs of a diverse society, our nation will suffer the consequences -- not just within some artificial 10-year “budget window,” but for decades to come. 

Failure to confront this challenge got us into the fiscal ditch we’re in. The Joint Committee has...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 - 10:15 AM

By Ryan Schoenike

The debate over our nation’s finances has now reached what seems to be common place in Washington. As our country sits on the verge of default, both parties have retreated to their partisan foxholes, only coming out to throw the next dose of heated political rhetoric. In addition, nearly every interest group in Washington is scrambling to make sure its programs don’t get cut. Those without a voice stand to lose the most from this argument.

Until now a voice that has been absent from the conversation was that of students. Americans in college now and the rest of the Millennial Generation stand to inherit a growing $14 trillion debt, trillions more in unfunded entitlement programs, bleak job prospects and a lower standard of living than their parents.

What started as conversation between three Georgetown students on a bus about the gridlock in Washington over the debt ceiling quickly turned into a small team working to make their voice heard. They came up with an idea and one question for our leaders: “Do We Have A Deal Yet?”    

The idea was simple. Write a letter to the president and leaders in Congress urging them to not only raise the debt ceiling but take this opportunity to enact bold, balanced and bipartisan deficit reduction. A plan that would...

Thursday, July 14, 2011 - 10:57 AM

The partisan vortex in Washington is now so strong that it threatens to swallow all rational thought.

As the nation rushes closer to default, politicians are rushing to their respective partisan corners. At times they truly seem more interested in blaming each other for causing a crisis than they are with preventing a crisis from happening. It is little wonder that credit ratings agencies such as Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have repeatedly questioned whether U.S. Treasury bonds can maintain their AAA status.  The scenario they fear, which becomes more likely by the day, is not so much that the U.S. can’t pay its bills but that it will refuse to do so.

For a brief time last week, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner appeared ready to challenge their respective political bases. Hopes were raised for a “big deal” that would include essential compromises on popular entitlement programs and tax breaks to reduce the deficit by roughly $4 trillion over 10 years. It was a good idea, but it didn’t last long.

Instead of looking at what the nation might gain in fiscal sustainability, politicians on both sides looked with horror at what they might lose in terms of partisan finger-pointing. A big deal would mean that Republicans could no longer accuse Democrats of trying to kill the economy with...