August 31, 2014

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Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 1:31 PM

Chad Laurie is an intern at The Concord Coalition.

Historically low interest rates, held down by the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program, have recently begun to rise sharply. Over the past few weeks, the interest rates on the federal debt rose 67 basis points from 1.66 percent to 2.33 percent. The increase is on pace with what the Congressional Budget Office projected in its most recent budget outlook; CBO estimates there will be $223 billion in net interest payments this year. In that same outlook, the CBO’s baseline assumes an increase in interest rates due to a recovering economy, and projected that interest payments on the federal debt would be $823 billion, or 3.2 percent of GDP in 2023, a percentage that has been exceeded only once in the past 50 years. With rates approaching levels consistent with a growing economy, interest costs will be the fastest growing spending program in the federal budget.

Why Were Rates So Low and Why Are They Rising Now?

During and after the recession, the Federal Reserve bought mortgage-backed bonds and Treasury securities to make borrowing cheaper for consumers and the government...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 2:49 PM

The new budget plan released recently by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles once again demonstrates that it is possible to bring the deficit under control using a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases without harming the near-term economy.

It is not a plan for partisan purists, and that is why it could play a vital role in the coming months as Democrats and Republicans struggle to find a way forward on a budget compromise.

Unlike the original Simpson-Bowles plan, which was presented when the two men co-chaired the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, this plan picks up where negotiations broke off last December between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner.

“The plan we have put forward here is not our ideal plan, it is not the perfect plan, and it is certainly not the only plan,” they wrote. “It is an effort to show both sides that a deal is possible; a deal where neither side compromises their principles but instead relies on principled compromise. Such a deal would invigorate our economy and demonstrate to the public that Washington can solve problems, and leave a better future for our grandchildren.”

Simpson and Bowles acknowledge that some...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 11:22 AM

Most plans to put the federal budget on a more sustainable path make a crucial assumption: That today’s younger workers will pay more of their own retirement costs than previous generations have.

By setting aside more money for retirement, the thinking goes, these younger workers can enable the federal government to reduce the high projected growth of Social Security and Medicare. They should theoretically be able to do this because they have more time to save large amounts of money and to let those savings compound.

As The Concord Coalition has often noted, however, Washington already favors older generations in many ways. And younger Americans face a number of financial hurdles and future challenges that must be kept in mind.

Many of them have been hit hard by the last recession, struggling with a poor job market and – thanks to skyrocketing tuition costs -- large amounts of student debt. With companies cutting back on retirement and health care programs, many younger people who have jobs  do not receive the compensation or employee benefits that their parents did.

The large and growing federal debt, meanwhile, means that younger Americans can expect higher taxes and less assistance from the federal government...

Monday, March 25, 2013 - 11:52 AM

President Obama is back home after a diplomatic mission to the Middle East in which he exhorted the Israeli people, particularly young Israelis, to ignore the competing claims of extremists and take the push for peace into their own hands. His speech on this topic at the Jerusalem International Convention Center seems to have hit a responsive chord.

It got me thinking that the President should repackage some of the same themes for a national address as Washington enters a crucial phase in negotiations over a budget deal between Democrats and Republicans. While the policy choices in each situation are not directly comparable, some of the points he made in the Jerusalem speech could resonate in this country as well.

Obama could begin by addressing America’s youth with the same message he had for Israelis.

“Part of the reason I like talking to young people,” he said, “is because no matter how great the challenges are, their idealism, their energy, their ambition always gives me hope. ... I believe that you will shape our future.”

Next, he could remind Americans that even deep differences can be bridged if the ultimate...

Friday, January 18, 2013 - 2:32 PM

In his press conference this week, President Obama suggested that policymakers only need to pass another $1.5 trillion worth of deficit reduction, on top of the $2.5 trillion already enacted, to stabilize the growth of the nation’s debt and, in his words, “finish the job.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, two well-respected fiscal policy organizations, basically agree with the President’s math, and there is nothing to quibble about in those calculations regarding stabilizing the debt.

However, that level of deficit reduction would hardly mean the “job is finished.” In fact, the whole idea that we can pinpoint a specific amount of deficit reduction necessary within a 10-year time frame can be a distraction from the fiscal sustainability conversation we need to have.

Getting caught up in exactly when the debt-GDP-ratio stabilizes, or whether we might miss that goal by a few percentage points at the end of the 10-year window, assumes a precision in economic and technical estimating that no entity actually possesses (even the CBO, whose respect and skill in these matters is second-to-none).

Our main emphasis...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - 3:46 AM

Once again we have a political punt.

With no time left on the clock, Senate Democrats and Republicans have approved a deal to avoid the most immediate consequences of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The defining feature of the deal, however, is that it leaves much more to be done.

The deal -- which the House must still vote on -- requires no hard choices and solves no difficult problems.  

There is no entitlement reform, no tax reform and no framework or process for addressing these critical needs in 2013. Meanwhile, the indiscriminate and disproportionate discretionary spending cuts mandated by last year’s Budget Control Act are postponed, creating a new cliff.

And with no increase in the statutory debt limit, it still looms as the next self-imposed crisis to remind everyone of how dysfunctional the legislative process has become on Capitol Hill.

So we have a deal, but not a grand bargain. The best that can be said for it is that it smoothes out a portion of the cliff. That will benefit the economy in the very near term, but aside from some relatively minor tax increases on the highest of income earners, the net result of the fiscal cliff deal is to preserve an unsustainable status quo. 

The unfinished business has not gone away. It has simply been handed off to the new...

Friday, December 28, 2012 - 4:08 PM

For the third week in a row, I will be discussing the nation’s fiscal challenges on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, this Sunday at 7:45 a.m. (Here is the first week, and here is the second.) Stan Collender, who among other things writes the Fiscal Fitness column in Roll Call and the Capital Gains and Games blog, will again be my co-panelist.

One thing that might help you get ready for another fun hour of viewing would be to play The Concord Coalition’s budget exercises to see how you would replace the fiscal cliff.

Our online exercise, The Federal Budget Challenge, is a great single-player experience. If you want fun for the whole family gathered for the holidays, you can print out our pen-and-paper exercise Principles and Priorities. In either case...

Monday, December 17, 2012 - 9:56 PM

With the latest exchange of offers, President Obama and House Speaker Boehner have moved closer to a deal that would reduce the deficit by about $2 trillion over the next decade.  On the surface, the split between spending cuts and tax increases seems relatively even and this is likely to be a point of resistance for those who argue for greater spending cuts.  Lost in the rhetoric, however, is that some policies traditionally defined as “tax increases” are really “spending cuts.”

If that fact could be acknowledged by both sides, they might find that bridging the gap is an easier task.

The current tax code is riddled with "tax expenditures" -- exemptions, deductions, credits, exclusions and preferential rates that function much like entitlement spending.

At a recent public forum convened by Strengthening of America – Our Children’s Future, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers explained, "There are long-standing privileges in the tax code that perhaps should be thought of as misguided entitlements and...reform of entitlements should also extend to the tax entitlements that benefit many of those who are best off. If we take that approach and we recognize that the idea of expenditure, like the idea of entitlement, is a notion that applies both to what has traditionally been the spending side of...

Monday, November 19, 2012 - 11:50 AM

Signals from the first post-election budget meeting between the President and congressional leaders, which took place at the White House on Friday, were very good.

Congressional leaders of both parties appeared together after the meeting. There were no lines in the sand, no threats, and no impugning each other’s motives.

Beyond the low bar of politeness, President Obama and his guests appeared to be focused on the right priority -- achieving a long-term fiscal plan and not just a quick fix to the immediate pressure of the “fiscal cliff.”  

They spoke of a two-step process with a down payment on deficit reduction this year while putting together a framework for a long-term deal to be enacted next year along with a credible back-up mechanism -- more credible than a new cliff -- in case Congress fails to act. That basic approach has been recommended by many outside observers, including The Concord Coalition.  

Topping off the pre-Thanksgiving cheer was that a consensus seems to have been reached on the fundamental point that everything must be on the table, including revenues and entitlement spending.

We're still far from a long-term “grand bargain,” let alone a way around the fiscal cliff, but this is an essential starting point for fruitful negotiations.

Whether the...

Monday, November 12, 2012 - 1:00 AM

Example isn’t the main thing in influencing others – it is the only thing. – Albert Schweitzer

Increasingly alarmed by the nation’s deteriorating fiscal outlook and the failure of our political system to produce timely, common sense solutions, some state officials have begun to show leadership. They can do much more.

This year, the United States Conference of Mayors and the two leading associations of state legislators issued compelling resolutions that urge action by their federal counterparts. 

In September the mayors called for “a bipartisan and balanced approach to deficit reduction by incorporating spending cuts with additional revenue from sources such as tax code reform and closing unfair corporate tax loopholes.” In October the mayors reiterated their call for “a balanced plan for recovery that has the potential to restore the confidence of our people, and the world, in the leadership of our national government.”

The bipartisan Council of State Governments-West unanimously passed a resolution at its annual meeting in July urging Congress “...