November 27, 2014

The (Tab)ulation

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Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 6:16 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...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 9:47 AM

The end game for health care reform may finally have arrived. Some in Congress are suggesting that a decision should be made by the Easter break, which begins on March 26. Time is running short.

If we learned anything from last week’s health care summit, it is that the final end game negotiations will not take place between Democrats and Republicans but among various factions of Democrats.

Republicans now sense big gains coming in the November elections and thus have no motivation to move in Obama’s direction. Any attempt to draw them into a negotiation –- including the “start from scratch” option Republicans themselves are pushing -- will likely fail.

Democrats are split, with some fearing for their jobs if they support an unpopular bill while others believe that passing even a flawed bill will leave them better off in November.

One casualty of the situation may be cost containment. Democrats are mostly united around coverage expansion. That’s the easy part. Their biggest difference is on the more difficult question of aggressive cost containment. The two most promising cost-containment strategies still on the table are the tax on high-cost health care plans and the...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 8:39 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’...

Monday, February 1, 2010 - 5:04 PM

Following up on our press release about the President's Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposal, here are a few more thoughts:

Annual discretionary spending:

  • A major element of the Obama administration’s 2015 deficit reduction goal is a three-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending (FY 2011-2013). While the portion of the budget covered by the freeze is less than 20 percent, it would still save an estimated $29 billion in 2015 alone, and $249 billion over 10 years.
  • Clearly, more must be done and even doing this will prove difficult. Nevertheless, The Concord Coalition supports the proposed freeze and, given current economic circumstances, agrees that it is appropriate to begin implementation in 2011. Concord also agrees that the freeze should not be across-the-board. Some programs may merit an increase while others can be cut. An aggregate freeze, as proposed, would help to set priorities and reduce waste.
  • War costs in the budget are likely underestimated. In keeping with last year’s budget, the administration has included annual placeholder sums of $50 billion for war costs beyond 2012. While it is...
Thursday, January 28, 2010 - 9:52 PM

If fiscal responsibility calls for significant changes in the big federal entitlement programs, shouldn’t the defense budget face scrutiny and reductions as well?

That question comes up a lot when The Concord Coalition emphasizes the need for entitlement reform. The answer is, “Yes.”

About a fifth of the federal budget goes to the Pentagon, and it is clear that there are many opportunities to achieve significant savings without jeopardizing national security.

Petty turf wars, bureaucratic bloat, poor planning, lax bookkeeping, no-bid contracts, illogical personnel policies and simple extravagance all inflate the defense budget in ways that knowledgeable taxpayers understandably resent.

In addition, short-sighted members of Congress often champion unnecessary defense spending -- or at least turn a blind eye to it -- in deference to the special interests that stand to profit.

All of this adds to the nation’s fiscal imbalances and massive borrowing. That’s why The Concord Coalition supports careful review of the defense budget to identify reasonable reforms and spending cuts.

In calling for a bipartisan fiscal commission that would submit recommendations to Congress, for example, we have stressed the importance of giving the panel a broad mandate that puts everything on the table. That...

Sunday, January 24, 2010 - 8:06 PM

As the White House and congressional leaders rethink health care reform after the Republican upset in the Massachusetts Senate race, there is a growing danger that Congress will jettison comprehensive health care reform altogether. Even worse, they might pass stripped-down measures that eliminate politically difficult cost-containment, while popular but costly provisions are kept.

President Obama has suggested narrowing the focus of national reform, advising that Congress should “try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on.” Some members of Congress have also expressed support for a limited bill.

However, most policy experts agree that a limited bill is nearly impossible to construct without running into some major issues with short and long-term costs. That is because the easier elements -- the ones that “people agree on” -- are interlocked with elements whose benefits are far less apparent to many voters.

The key reforms for the health insurance industry are popular -- for instance, prohibiting discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Yet, just doing that would lead to an insurance "death spiral" where only the sick would get insurance when needed, driving up the cost of premiums. The only way around this spiral is to have an individual mandate to...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 1:57 AM

"It isn't fiscally irresponsible to raise the debt limit, I think it would be rather irresponsible not to raise the debt limit because we have already incurred the bill."

That quote, from Concord executive director Bob Bixby, is one of many from our new videos highlighting some of the key points driving fiscal discussions in Washington.

We recorded the videos because the Senate is set to begin debate on increasing the debt ceiling while all of Congress awaits the President's budget proposal, which will purportedly contain the Administration's ideas for how to reduce the country's budget deficits. 

The first shows a discussion about the basics behind increasing the debt limit and how there are a few key budget process reforms tied to fiscal responsibility that have become part of the debate as the Senate approaches a difficult vote. We talk about the possible Senate amendments...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 5:52 PM

It’s a little amusing to see how badly the idea of a bipartisan fiscal commission has frightened some partisans at both ends of the political spectrum. That alone indicates the idea may have merit.

Some skeptics, of course, doubt that a special bipartisan panel would have any hope of success in steering the government onto a more responsible fiscal course. And there’s no question that this would be a very tough assignment.

But the strident opposition to a bipartisan commission from some critics on both the right and the left is rooted in fears that such a panel might actually succeed. They describe commission proposals in conspiratorial terms, as though serious bipartisan planning for the nation’s future would be merely a cover for shady plots to sneak reprehensible policies past Congress and the American public. Oh, the deceit of it all...

The Wall Street Journal, for example, recently ran an editorial conceding that “current federal commitments are unsustainable, starting with $37 trillion in unfunded Medicare liabilities.”

Yet the editorial ruled out a bipartisan commission that could tackle this...

Thursday, January 14, 2010 - 11:05 AM

The Concord Coalition is looking to hire a research assistant to help with the Washington Budget Report and other Concord policy work.

For the full position listing and application submission click here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 - 10:48 AM

In my previous post, I spent some time clarifying how “advance care planning” is in no way, shape or form the same as a “death panel,” and how palliative care does not equate to any "rationing of care." Rather, both these health care interventions are patient-centered and improve the value of the health care experience for severely, chronically, and terminally ill patients and their families.

As Congress resumes its work and health reform continues to dominate talks on Capitol Hill, I'd like to put these in context given the status of health reform today.

The philosophy behind advance care planning fits nicely with the promotion of an Independent Payment Advisory Board tasked to make recommendations to Congress on slowing future Medicare cost growth. Similarly to advance care planning, where potential treatment options and often difficult decisions are discussed prior to a health crisis, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is being asked to evaluate the tough choices facing the longevity and fiscal health of the Medicare program in advance of a federal budget crisis. The Advisory Board would be made up of health care experts, people who entered their professions because...