November 24, 2014

The (Tab)ulation

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Monday, March 12, 2012 - 11:14 AM

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...

Sunday, February 26, 2012 - 9:32 PM

Over the years that The Concord Coalition has been working to promote fiscal responsibility, we've gotten to know our network of grassroots members pretty well. By and large they are earnest, inquisitive, and have a thirst for the raw facts that allow them to draw their own conclusions. We always keep them in mind when we develop our educational tools.

Whether in our Chart Talk or in Principles and Priorities, we aim to give a complete picture based on numbers from non-partisan sources such as the Congressional Budget Office. When we release our Washington Budget Report each week, we often provide -- in addition to our own explanations and perspectives -- links to the original numbers and government documents that we have used in our analyses. 

To make the data even more readily accessible, we are pleased to announce the release of our new Fiscal Indicators. These are the numbers that we refer to every day, repackaged into interactive charts and graphs and woven into the fabric of our website's ...

Thursday, February 23, 2012 - 12:00 AM

In his Fiscal Year 2013 budget, President Obama proposes an array of tax proposals. Some of his suggestions are new and would move the country’s unfair, inefficient and overly complex tax system in a positive direction. But some of the most costly proposals are the ones we’ve seen many times before. Four points stand out in the tax proposals in the Obama budget:

(1)    The budget raises revenues only relative to the administration's policy-extended baseline and not relative to current law.

Under the Obama budget, revenues would rise from their current 15-16 percent of GDP to 19 percent by 2015, and to just over 20 percent by 2022. But under current law, all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of this year -- so that revenues would exceed 20 percent of GDP by 2015, and 21 percent by 2022. Thus, relative to current law, the president is proposing a net reduction in taxes. Compared with the CBO's projections of the cost of extending all of the Bush tax cuts (and the “adjusted baseline” the administration prefers to start with), however, the president's proposals raise revenue. That’s because Obama proposes to let the high-income Bush tax cuts expire and to add some other tax increases on...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 8:58 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...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 2:13 PM

The demise of the deficit reduction super committee left many people wondering whether the polarized atmosphere in Washington has made it impossible for Republicans and Democrats to reach agreement on the thorniest issues that must be resolved to achieve a fiscal sustainability plan.  

So it was heartening last week to see a bipartisan pair of prominent lawmakers – Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) -- release a joint Medicare reform proposal.

At its core is the concept of “premium support” (Wyden and Ryan call it “coverage support”) in which the federal government would pay a set amount to subsidize Medicare premiums. Beneficiaries could elect to remain in the traditional Medicare program or purchase their health insurance on an “exchange” of approved plans, which would be required to offer “at least as comprehensive a benefit as traditional fee-for-service Medicare.” The plans would also be required to issue policies to all seniors who apply (i.e., guaranteed issue).

The level of support would be determined through a competitive bidding process similar to the one currently used to set premiums for the Medicare prescription drug benefit (Part D). There would be a cap on out-of-pocket expenses (catastrophic coverage), and the coverage support “would be adjusted to provide additional...

Monday, December 12, 2011 - 12:00 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 - 9:49 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...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 12:00 AM

It is now a little under one week until the deadline for the congressional joint committee on deficit reduction, or super committee, to report its recommendations.  Inside Washington, many are skeptical that committee members will meet their goal of $1.5 trillion in further deficit reduction. One of the challenges for elected officials is that the political environment surrounding the super committee, including events on the presidential campaign trail, makes finding real solutions very difficult.

What happens, though, when average Americans are asked to help find solutions?
 
Something quite amazing, actually.
 
On Monday night, nearly 200 people in Des Moines, Iowa worked in “committees” of seven or eight to confront the nation’s fiscal challenges and came to some startling conclusions.
 
For example, to help reduce federal spending, 84 percent of the groups supported eliminating some agriculture subsides.  In Iowa!
 
Students, community leaders, seniors and other Iowans took part in The Concord Coalition’s interactive budget exercise Principles and Priorities.  The event was co-sponsored by The Des Moines Register...
Friday, November 4, 2011 - 3:21 PM

The Concord Coalition this week recognized Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) for their leadership of the "Gang of Six" in the search for bipartisan fiscal reform. 

Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), a member of Concord's board of directors,  presented Chambliss and Warner with the 2011 Paul E. Tsongas Economic Patriot Award at the organization’s annual dinner Wednesday night in Washington.

Nunn praised both senators for their political courage, noting that each had incurred the wrath of some party colleagues for championing reform efforts that would protect the country. Chambliss called this “the issue of our lifetime” and Warner emphasized that the American public had the right to expect responsible corrective measures from their elected officials.

Concord’s 18th Annual Economic Patriots Dinner also featured a panel discussion on the fiscal, economic and demographic challenges facing the country.  The topics included the prospects for the special congressional committee on deficit reduction, which faces a Nov. 23 deadline to submit its recommendations to Congress.

Panel members expressed varying degrees of optimism or pessimism about the likelihood of effective...

Monday, October 31, 2011 - 11:00 PM

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...