April 16, 2014

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Monday, March 12, 2012 - 12:14 PM

Last week two committees in the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). This is an alarming attempt to undo a key cost-saving enforcement mechanism without putting anything else in its place.

You may recall that the IPAB was created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA – aka “health care reform”) to reduce the growth in Medicare spending through the use of a spending-target system and a fast-track legislative process. 

The Concord Coalition has long supported the IPAB because it provides a crucial backstop to ensure federal health care savings from the ACA. (See here and here).

The ACA imposed cuts to Medicare, raised some taxes and fees, and created a penalty for people who don’t buy insurance. The legislation also created pilot projects and experiments to determine how to help curb the growth of health care costs. The IPAB was designed to ensure that the Medicare cuts -- or others that would achieve the same level of savings -- will go into effect. The IPAB will also make it less likely that parochial political interests will be able to...

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, December 6, 2011 - 10:49 AM

The current debate over extending the payroll tax cut well demonstrates that policymakers often mean different things when referring to policies that “help” or “expand” the economy. I often hear the words “stimulus” and “growth” used interchangeably, but when economists use them, we typically are making a distinction between different economic goals that apply to different circumstances.

“Stimulus” usually refers to short-term policies to increase demand for goods and services in an economy  operating at less-than-full capacity -- i.e., an economy with high unemployment. In such a recessionary economy, the problem is not a lack of productive resources (capital and labor), but a lack of demand for the goods and services that those resources produce. Under such conditions, public sector deficits -- whether through tax cuts or direct spending -- can be an effective way to increase demand (consumption) and the level of economic activity.

“Growth” usually refers to the long-term expansion of the “supply side” of the economy -- that is, the supply of capital and labor. When the economy is at “full employment,” the binding constraint on it is not the demand for goods and services, but the supply of inputs to production. Fiscal policies that are good at growing the economy over the longer term are therefore those...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (“super committee”) have a timing problem that compounds their political problem. Put simply, they may run out of time to reach agreement on the kind of comprehensive changes that are needed to put the nation’s finances on a sustainable path. However, with a little cooperation and a strong dose of leadership, they need not let the clock run out on their efforts.

The super committee’s political problem is easy to see. Its official goal is to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. This won’t be easy, but as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently pointed out, even if lawmakers are able to achieve this goal it would still leave the debt on an unsustainable growth track. That is why the President, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, many members of Congress and countless outside commentators have urged the super committee to aim for a more ambitious target – anywhere from $3 trillion to $5 trillion.

However, to reach this goal, often described as “going big,” the super committee will have to tackle the two thorniest fiscal policy issues – entitlement and tax reform. These issues have stymied every other long-term budget negotiation this year because they are where the parties have their biggest differences.

And yet, we...

Thursday, October 20, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Last January, members of Congress paired up with colleagues of the opposite party for the State of the Union Address. It was a welcome, if symbolic, display of political civility.

In the ensuing months, Congress and the Obama administration have struggled to put this civility into practice as they have grappled with sincere disagreements over the best approach to meeting the nation’s fiscal and economic challenges.

Agreements were eventually reached on funding levels for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year and on a complex process for raising the statutory debt limit. These agreements, however, largely avoided entitlement and tax reform -- the core issues on which Democrats and Republicans disagree and on which so much of our future depends.

Moreover, the partisan, petty and contentious atmosphere that continues to hang over Capitol Hill has angered the public and rattled financial markets.

There is hope, however, that the new joint congressional committee -- set up to find ways to reduce projected deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years -- can change things.

With an even split between the two parties and the backing of congressional leaders and the President, the committee has an opportunity to transcend politics as usual, exceed its modest mandate and forge a fiscal...

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...

Thursday, September 8, 2011 - 12:00 AM

It is not inconsistent to provide effective short-term support for the economic recovery while laying the groundwork for long-term deficit reduction. To do so, however, Washington will have to move beyond the inflexibility and partisan vitriol of the recent debt limit debate.

President Obama took some helpful steps in this direction in his speech to Congress this evening. He offered several short-term proposals that could conceivably provide both an economic boost and a basis for bipartisan cooperation – which are together essential ingredients for effective fiscal policy and for repairing some of the damage that the debt limit debate inflicted on public confidence.
 
A full evaluation of the President’s plan, however, will need to take into account the ideas he will release later for paying for his new proposals and moving the federal budget toward a sustainable path. A credible plan to stabilize the debt over the long term will be essential to making short-term measures more effective. It is not just a matter of making the numbers work; it is sound economics.

As The Concord Coalition has long argued, “fiscally responsible deficit spending” need not be an oxymoron. During periods of economic difficulty when deficit spending may be required, the key is to ensure that the country gets the...
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - 1:23 PM

The “no new taxes” pledge taken by Republicans in Congress has been a huge obstacle to achieving bipartisan agreement on a comprehensive deficit reduction plan. Many Republicans interpret the pledge as ruling out revenue increases of any kind, even those that close narrow loopholes and special interest deductions. The devotion seems to extend to a “grand bargain” for deficit reduction that would actually enact future cuts in tax rates, but pay for some of the revenue loss from those cuts by limiting deductions and loopholes.

However, it is encouraging that some of the newly appointed Republican members of the debt limit deal’s super committee have already indicated a refreshing openness to considering this approach. Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI) recently told a group of constituents that “tax reform is long overdue” and that he is “not afraid of looking at tax loopholes” in finding common ground on deficit reduction. And, Congressman Dave Camp -- a Republican super committee member from Michigan who also chairs the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee -- when questioned about tax increases has said that “nothing is...

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...

Monday, August 1, 2011 - 6:02 PM

In this debt-limit game of musical chairs, the music has stopped and it’s time to grab a seat. The only one available is the deal worked out by congressional leaders and the Obama administration over the weekend. It is not a solution to our nation’s fiscal problems and is far from the “grand bargain” needed to put us on a sustainable path. However, a debt-limit deal needs to get done. This one at least avoids a self-inflicted wound caused by the government’s defaulting on its obligations, and it gives proponents of a grand bargain another turn at bat.

The main flaw in the agreement is that it reflects the continued refusal of our political leaders to confront fiscal reality. Once again, they are leading with discretionary spending cuts while leaving the biggest problems -- entitlement and tax reform -- for another day.

If this is what they have to do to pass a debt limit increase, so be it. But no one should pretend that they have solved anything other than an artificial political crisis. The fundamental fiscal crisis is pretty much unchanged.

A positive element is the proposed special congressional committee charged with finding deficit reductions beyond the initial trillion-dollar down payment. The committee is the only aspect of the agreement that...