October 21, 2014

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Monday, June 7, 2010 - 4:45 PM

How large is the federal debt? That's something of a trick question in economic circles, and some analysts believe it may have already tripped up the President's fiscal commission.

Some commission members think the panel, charged with recommending solutions to the nation’s fiscal problems, should focus on the total federal debt. That figure, which just hit $13 trillion, is most familiar to the general public because it is widely cited by the news media and politicians.

Many budget experts and economists, however, say the real number to watch is “publicly held debt,” meaning what the government owes to investors. This figure, now approaching $8.6 trillion, does not include money that the government owes to various trust funds, notably for Social Security.

Beyond this issue is the question of how much more debt the government can safely take on. Fiscal commission members tussled over that at their second full meeting late last month on Capitol Hill, with some arguing that the economy was still too weak for the government to start focusing on deficit reduction.

“It’s very important that we don’t in our zeal focus on deficit reduction right now,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat.

Regardless of which figure the commission focuses on, federal debt is...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - 4:56 PM

While we publish a weekly Washington Budget Report (sign up here), we wanted to direct your attention to some other budget items we are watching this week.

  • The Senate is considering a McCaskill/ Sessions (amendment text here) that would institute statutory discretionary spending caps for three years.
Monday, May 24, 2010 - 5:25 PM

The extenders bill that the House will consider this week is a timely reminder of why it is important for Congress to complete action on a budget resolution.  A budget resolution continues to elude Congress, but there has been considerably less trouble reaching agreement on a bill that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will add a staggering $167 billion to the deficit over 2010-2014 and a net increase of $134 billion over 2010-2020. 


Last Thursday, leaders of the Senate...

Monday, May 10, 2010 - 3:08 PM

 

recent story on CNN-Money by Steve Hargreaves asks “What will BP really pay?” I think a more fundamental question to ask at this point is “What should BP pay? And should no one else?” As the story explains (emphasis added):

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — The Gulf oil spill is going to cost billions to clean up, a tab BP has publicly pledged to pay in full.

But thanks to the unpredictable nature of the oil slick and the legal maze surrounding maritime law, what BP will pay and to whom is very much an open question…

Start with the costs. Estimates to clean the spill and compensate other parties for the economic damage run from $2 billion to $14 billion. One politician even said it could run into the hundreds of billions

…which is a lot of money, too much for even BP to cover (whose profits were, coincidentally,...

Sunday, April 11, 2010 - 9:45 PM

I have never been a fan of the Bush tax cuts. I’ve always felt they were too costly, too skewed to the rich, and did too little to make the tax system more efficient. Concord also warned about the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts before they were enacted and has since continuously said they should not be extended without a plan to address the nation's unsustainable fiscal outlook.

The expiration of the cuts, at the end of this year, is fast approaching and policymakers in Washington are struggling to decide what to do with them. President Obama has promised to continue most of the same tax cuts that he himself has criticized for being fiscally irresponsible. Not only has he promised to extend the tax cuts for all households with incomes below $250,000 (at a budgetary cost of $2.2 trillion over ten years), but he also promised to never raise any taxes on households below that income.

However, President Obama has also promised to get the deficit down to a "sustainable" level of around 3 percent of GDP in five years. But the President's own budget, which includes the deficit-financed extension of those "middle-class" Bush tax cuts (that $2.2 trillion worth), isn't consistent with such a low deficit. CBO says that under the...

Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 7:16 PM

Perhaps the most difficult policy question Concord has been discussing with the public, the media, and members of Congress, is what to do about current large budget deficits given the lingering effect of a deep recession and projections for future debt levels due to population aging and rising health care costs. Does working on one problem preclude working on the other? The answer is no.

David Walker of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute had a good Op-Ed in Politico this week exploring the question. They highlight that:

The difficulty is that many politicians and news organizations often cast deficit debates as a dichotomy: You either care about them or you don’t.

But this is rarely accurate. The fact that the two of us, who have philosophical differences on the proper role of government, find much to agree on about deficits is a testament to the importance of dropping this useless dichotomy and finally talking about deficits in a reasonable way.

...

Though a concern, most of the recent short-term rise in the deficit is...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 9:39 PM

With today being the one-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (more commonly referred to as “the stimulus”), and President Obama expected tomorrow to announce his Presidential commission for deficit reduction, I’m hearing a lot of claims and rhetoric about what has “worked” versus what has not, and what has to be done going forward versus what should remain “off limits.”

In all these arguments and politically-colored “evaluations”, I hear misplaced focus on (the stark and easy-to-talk-about) absolutes, averages, and aggregates, when what matters economically are relatives, marginals, and individuals.

Let me elaborate a bit with the two issues at hand…

On the Stimulus: Republican critics of the stimulus argue that the “proof” that the stimulus hasn’t worked lies in the still-bad numbers of the unemployed–-that since ARRA’s passage last year, total jobs in the economy have decreased, not increased.  As the New York Times’...

Thursday, November 5, 2009 - 4:18 PM

The news from Thursday’s Washington Post:

The Senate voted Wednesday to renew the government’s $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers through the first six months of next year as part of a broader bill designed to extend unemployment benefits.

For the first time, the tax credit program would also enable many homeowners who buy a new primary residence to receive a $6,500 refund.

The measure was attached to a bill that would provide 20 weeks of unemployment benefits in more than two dozen states with jobless rates above 8.5 percent and up to 14 weeks elsewhere. Another provision in the bill would allow businesses that had operating losses in 2008 and 2009 to seek refunds for taxes paid on profits over the past five years.

Why this legislation now?  Because despite signs that the economy as a whole, as measured by GDP, is growing again, most American households are still feeling the pain of a very weak labor market which all economists expect will be unusually slow to recover this time around.  Hence, the extension of unemployment benefits is easy to justify.

But what about the ...

Saturday, September 26, 2009 - 11:04 PM

I spent much of the last week in San Francisco assisting our Northern California Fiscal Advisory Council in their discussions of the possible solutions to the country's fiscal challenges. While we spent quite a bit of time talking about health care reform and the challenges of health care cost control, questions kept coming up about the national debt and foreign holdings of that debt, and the possibilities for inflation because of the current economic situation and whether there was a long-term inflation risk because of our indebtedness.

We are often asked about these topics in our grassroots conversations. However, they are incredibly complex and talking through them is difficult. So, for now, I can let a couple items I read recently speak for me.

The first is the text of a speech given by the President of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, Janet Yellen. In it, she discusses the still quite troubled state of the economy, the somewhat remote chances for inflation in the near-term due to lasting high unemployment, and the Fed's commitment to preventing inflation.

The second is an...

Sunday, August 30, 2009 - 8:53 PM

The first definition of “plausible” on dictionary.com is:

plausible
[plaw-zuh-buhl]

having an appearance of truth or reason; seemingly worthy of approval or acceptance; credible; believable: a plausible excuse; a plausible plot.

Note that it doesn’t say “likely” or “probable”–it connotes the notion of possibility not probability. I bring this up because many folks, especially the media, want to interpret the “Concord Coalition Plausible Baseline” as our best forecast of what the fiscal outlook will turn out to be. No, we’re not saying that’s the most likely outcome; we’re saying that’s a plausible, possible outcome. And it’s a worst-case scenario, because that’s what we do at Concord: we warn about the possible really bad outcomes if we don’t start making more responsible choices–because we don’t want them to happen.

On Saturday's front page of the Washington Post...