October 5, 2015

Posts on national debt

Subscribe to this feed Subscribe to this feed


Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 8:48 AM

Anyone wondering why Social Security and Medicare should be “on the table” in budget negotiations need look no further than the 2011 Trustees’ Report issued on May 13.

As is usually the case, media accounts of the trustees’ report tended to focus on trust fund balances rather than on the cash balances and growing costs of the two programs. Viewed from a trust fund perspective, the financial condition of Social Security and Medicare may appear troubling but of no immediate concern. Social Security’s combined trust funds are projected to remain solvent until 2036 and the Medicare HI trust fund [Part A] is solvent until 2024. The Medicare SMI trust funds [Parts B and D] are permanently solvent, but only because they have an automatic draw on general revenues.

So why worry about these programs now? Why not wait another 10 years before making changes in Medicare and 20 years or more for Social Security?

One reason is that both programs are straining the federal budget now because they are paying out more than they are taking in from dedicated resources, including payroll taxes, taxation of...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - 10:46 AM

Making A Difference
My fellow student T.J Leach and I, Alex Hall, are students of George Nye’s Business and Economics class at Lake Region High School in Naples, Maine.  We both grew up in the area, which is about one hour north of Portland. The people who live year-round in Naples are generally of a lower to middle financial status, so we have grown up being aware of the importance of money in our day to day lives. We decided to create a video presentation to inform the public about the national debt. We went with our class out to local stores and interviewed random people. We had a specific set of questions that challenged them to think about what they know about our nation’s debt.  After compiling all of the information, we put it into a video to show to the entire school during an assembly.

The idea of making the video came up in our Economics class. We had to come up with something that would make people aware of the crisis we are in, while also making it possible for other people to look at the information we had collected. At first we thought about creating a simple presentation and then showing it to just our class. Once we looked at the numbers we were dealing with, we realized how much larger is the problem America faces today. So we wanted to do...

Monday, May 2, 2011 - 4:52 PM

Elected officials in both parties have made what I call “magical, mystery tax pledges” that are at odds with bipartisan approaches to serious deficit reduction:

  • Republicans: Don’t raise revenue above the 40-year historical average of around 18-19 percent of GDP.
  • Democrats, including President Obama: Don’t raise tax burdens on households making under $250,000 a year.

Some Republicans may not realize how their promise works against not only bipartisan compromise but against their own policy goals. As explained in a recent opinion piece I wrote for Bloomberg Government (subscription-only access here):

“To those on the right holding fast to an 18-19 percent of gross domestic product revenue ceiling, here’s the paradox: Raising more revenue by broadening and leveling the tax base is actually consistent with ‘supply-side’ economic goals. Raising revenue by reducing at least some of the $1 trillion a year in tax breaks and shelters — also known as tax expenditures — and adding on new, broadly defined tax bases would increase, not decrease, the supply of productive resources in our economy…”

Reducing tax expenditures would actually reduce the government’s role in the economy, a central goal...

Monday, April 25, 2011 - 10:25 AM

House Republicans have adopted a budget they say will make tough but necessary spending cuts to rein in our nation’s burgeoning budget deficits. President Obama says the Republican plan is too radical. He hit the road last week to sell his own deficit reduction plan, which he says is more balanced.

So, it’s “game on.”

But just what is the purpose of this game?

If the purpose is to gain advantage for the 2012 elections, then recent events make sense. If, however, the purpose is to build consensus around a fiscal sustainability plan, we’re off on the wrong track. Rather than seeking areas of common ground, which clearly exist, the President and Republican leaders seem more interested in sharpening their differences.

Consider two major issues: tax reform and health care.

In both instances there is the potential for compromise. Indeed, without compromise on health care and taxes, it is hard to see how a meaningful plan for fiscal sustainability can be enacted.

Two bipartisan groups that looked at these issues last year were each able to find consensus, at least around a broad approach.

On tax reform, the Bowles-Simpson and Domenici-Rivlin commissions both recommended that most tax expenditures – deductions, exclusions and credits – be eliminated or greatly scaled back in exchange...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 - 11:57 AM

Here is a trivia question: Under which scenario would Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up the larger share of non-interest (i.e. “primary”) federal government spending?

A. President Obama’s budget

B. Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget (House Budget Committee)

The answer is B.

Under Ryan’s budget, these programs would grow from 46 percent of primary spending in 2011 to 62 percent in 2021. This compares with an increase to 56 percent under the President’s budget.

The divergence becomes even more pronounced after that. By 2040, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid account for 74 percent of non-interest spending under Ryan’s budget compared to 62 percent under the President’s budget.

At first, this result may come as a surprise because it is clear that Ryan’s budget would do far more than the President’s budget to curtail the growth of federal health care spending. At...

Monday, March 28, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Updated April 3, 2012

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently updated its report on the federal government’s long-term fiscal outlook. The report underscores the serious problems our country faces if it continues on its current fiscal path.

Here are some of the projected milestones for the years ahead, based on one of the scenarios in the GAO's report (the "alternative simulation"* ):

  • 2023 -- Net interest costs would exceed Medicare
  • 2025 -- Federal debt held by the public would exceed the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • 2025 -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and net interest would consume all government revenues.
  • 2029 -- Net interest costs would exceed Social Security
  • 2037 -- Net interest would exceed both Medicare and Medicaid
  • 2038 -- Debt held by the public would exceed 200 percent of GDP
  • 2039 -- The federal deficit would exceed all government revenues.
  • 2046 -- The deficit would reach 22.6 percent of GDP, more than the entire federal budget in 2008 (22.4 percent of GDP).
  • 2047 -- Federal debt held by the public would equal 300 percent of GDP
  • ...
Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - 2:49 PM
With the ink barely dry on a $858 billion tax cut and emergency spending bill, lawmakers were hit with an official reminder last week that steps to rein in the nation’s growing debt cannot be postponed much longer.

According to the 2010 Financial Report of the U.S. Government, released on December 21 by the Treasury Department, “under current policies and the assumptions used in this report the debt-to-GDP ratio will continually increase over the next 75 years and beyond, which means current policies are not sustainable.”

The report further warns, “the longer policy action to avert these trends is delayed, the larger the projected revenue increases and/or spending decreases necessary to reach a target debt-to-GDP ratio.”

These conclusions were contained in a new section of the annual Financial Report titled ”Statement of Long Term Fiscal Projections.” In assessing the present value of projected non-interest spending and revenues over the next 75 years, the report estimates an average gap of 1.9 percent of GDP. Persistent deficits of this magnitude would cause the debt-to-GDP ratio to steadily rise from 62 percent...

Monday, December 6, 2010 - 11:54 AM

By now we've seen a number of proposals for fiscal sustainability from groups with very different perspectives. Some of the harshest critics of the bipartisan deficit-reduction panels are liberal-leaning groups that argue that the recommendations of the President's commission, as well as those of the Bipartisan Policy Center and the MacGuineas-Galston plan, leaned too heavily toward the conservative side and proposed packages that were too heavy on spending cuts and too insistent on keeping taxes (too) low. (I may agree that I would have preferred more revenue increases in the overall mix than the President's commission proposed, but I don't think that should lead me to declare the overall proposal "dead on arrival" or to reject the the individual policies contained within it.)

I've looked at two...

Monday, November 22, 2010 - 5:52 PM

My least favorite argument in deficit reduction debates is that a particular option can’t be chosen because it is too unpopular. If that criterion is strictly applied, we might as well fold our tents and wait for the inevitable fiscal crisis because we’ll never eliminate trillion-dollar deficits with “popular” options.

That message was clearly conveyed last week by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, led by two veterans of past deficit-reduction efforts, Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin. Their report followed a similarly tough message from Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairs of the President’s bipartisan fiscal commission.

Elected officials have not flocked to embrace these reports and it is easy to see why. They propose spending cuts in popular programs. They challenge cherished tax breaks and raise revenues in the process. They produce howls of protest from powerful interest groups on the political left and right.

But they each do one more thing: They outline plausible paths to a sustainable fiscal policy.

As a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s task force, I’m very proud of the resulting report. We worked together in a spirit of cooperation and compromise....

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - 9:27 AM

As the chair of The Concord Coalition’s Youth Advisory Board, I am always looking for opportunities to highlight why issues of fiscal sustainability and entitlement reform most significantly impact today’s young Americans and future generations. So when Sara Imhof, Concord’s Midwest field director, asked me to speak on a panel with Congressman Paul Ryan and former SEIU President Andy Stern, two members of the President Obama’s fiscal commission, I jumped at the chance.

Prior to the Oct. 12 event, I was fortunate to share a ride with Mr. Stern, and had a few minutes with both him and Congressman Ryan, hearing their perspectives and sharing some of my own. That includes my hope that the commission will use the opportunity in December, when it releases its findings, at least in part as a teaching moment -- an opportunity to shine a light on our nation’s unsustainable fiscal path, the facts of which are undisputed by both major political parties.

I was encouraged to hear Congressman Ryan and Mr. Stern acknowledge not only the gravity of the situation we face, but also the critical need for an “adult” conversation about our policy options going forward.