October 23, 2014

The (Tab)ulation

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 4:14 PM

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) today estimated that repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) would increase federal budget deficits between next year and 2022 by around $109 billion, only a small change from previous estimates. The CBO suggests that this can also be considered a rough estimate for how much the ACA reduces the deficit over the same time period.

The CBO cautions, however, that its estimates are uncertain because the projected effects of the law are themselves “highly uncertain.” The law contains some provisions that are projected to cost the government money, but others that would save money or provide additional revenue.

Also updated were CBO’s estimates of the budgetary effects of just the ACA’s health insurance coverage provisions in light of last month’s Supreme Court decision, which allows states to choose whether or not to expand eligibility for coverage under their Medicaid programs.

The budget office now estimates that these coverage provisions would have a net cost of $1,168 billion from 2012 to 2022, a net reduction of about $84 billion from estimates last March. This slightly reduced spending would come about because even with some states opting out of the relatively cheap Medicaid expansion and pushing some...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - 12:52 PM

Today Concord Coalition Co-Chair Sam Nunn, a former U.S. senator from Georgia, helped launch the Campaign to Fix the Debt.  This project is a non-partisan initiative to put America on a better fiscal and economic path.  Nunn is a member of the campaign's steering committee.  

In advance of the campaign's launch, Nunn said:

"On fiscal matters, neither political party can impose its will on the other, and that it is not likely to change after the election.  Successfully tackling our fiscal challenges requires Members of Congress to come together across party lines with a balanced plan that will strengthen the economy, reassure markets, and save future generations from an unbearable debt burden.  There are good people across the political spectrum who recognize this in putting together the Simpson  – Bowles and the Domenici  – Rivlin plans.  There are many Members of Congress who are willing to work together, but they get hit hard from both sides and need a foundation of citizen support.  The Campaign to Fix the Debt hopes to give these folks in Washington, DC and across the country the support they need to work together to put our nation's interest above political parties and to strengthen America to protect our children's...

Monday, July 2, 2012 - 10:59 AM

This post was co-authored with Louise Mackey, intern from the Washington Ireland Program 

Interest rates are at historically low levels, making borrowing very affordable for consumers -- and the United States government. When it issues debt, the federal government, like any other borrower, pays interest. This is how the government finances its annual budget deficits.

Why are interest rates so low now?

There are two primary reasons. First, during the recession there was less demand for credit. And to combat this, the Federal Reserve brought interest rates down to spur borrowing. Second, in response to the global economic slowdown, investors around the world have been desperate to place their money in a safe haven -- and U.S. Treasuries are still considered the safest investment in the world.

Interest rates are projected to stay at or near historic lows over the next two years as the economy continues to recover. Eventually, though, interest rates will begin to return to normal levels as economic growth puts inflationary pressure on the economy. This normalization of rates will increase the government’s borrowing costs. Those costs will also be going up simply because the government is borrowing...

Monday, June 25, 2012 - 11:45 AM

Lately it seems impossible to talk about the U.S. economy’s ailments and challenges without mentioning the rest of the world. Recent research by International Monetary Fund economists (reported in a Reuters story here and detailed in this IMF white paper) shows that advanced and emerging economies have become increasingly interlinked over the past decade, particularly through financial markets, with good and bad implications for individual countries. On one hand, cross-border financial linkages diversify risk, reducing an individual country’s exposure to localized shocks. On the other hand, the IMF warns that such interconnectedness can mean that financial risks can be transmitted quickly when they affect a major economic player (they use the term “core node”), possibly leading to a breakdown of the entire, global system.

 Moreover, it’s clear that the world’s economies are in many cases fighting off our own individual but similar economic ailments. The U.S. is watching Europe with keen interest, not just because we are afraid of the negative...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - 3:36 PM

The Medicare actuaries have just updated their projections for National Health Expenditures (NHE) and the overall picture they illustrate is a welcome one, but likely reflects temporary factors and cannot serve as an excuse for politicans to rest on their laurels.

On the plus side, health care cost inflation has slowed pretty dramatically over the last three years (2009-2011) and is also projected to be slower than normal for 2012 and 2013 -- with those costs staying nearly constant as a percent of GDP throughout the entire time period (around 17.9 percent). Furthermore, while spending is projected to jump in 2014, as the major health insurance provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) extend coverage to approximately 22 million people, over the period 2011-2021 spending is projected to grow at an annual average of 0.9 percent above GDP growth. This is good news because most budget experts consider health care cost growth of 1 percent over GDP the "gold standard" for a tough, but theoretically obtainable, spending target. (Historically, health care costs have risen 2 percentage points faster than GDP.)

The actuaries suggest most of the recent slowdown in health care spending can be attributed to the recession and...

Monday, June 4, 2012 - 12:00 AM

Federal budgeting isn’t for the faint of heart. The tax code alone consists of tens of thousands of pages. Then there's the defense budget, the other eleven annual appropriations bills, Medicare, Medicaid, the need to modernize Social Security . . . the list goes on and on. Mix in some presidential and congressional politics, and it’s easy to see why even people with the best of intentions just cannot seem to get the country on a sustainable track for the long term.

In late May, U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) wanted to find out if his constituents, given sufficient info, could handle the challenge. In three different sessions across his central Florida district, the congressman invited The Concord Coalition to host our flagship budget exercise “Principles and Priorities.” He asked constituents to “role-play” as policy makers with the goal of working toward substantial deficit reduction. Concord has done similar programs from coast to coast. However, one of the unique characteristics of Congressman Nugent’s district is that he represents more senior citizens than any of his House colleagues.

Nugent was pleased with what his constituents were able to do in looking for deficit reduction over the next decade.

...
Friday, May 25, 2012 - 10:06 AM

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released an excellent analysis on the "Economic Effects of Reducing the Fiscal Restraint That Is Scheduled to Occur in 2013."  The CBO term “fiscal restraint” has been more popularly referred to as “the fiscal cliff.” That is because there are so many large, sudden fiscal policy changes awaiting us at the turn of the year that if we think of the U.S. economy as a train, it is heading straight for a dramatic fall-off in consumer demand (and hence in overall activity in an economy still constrained by inadequate demand) as these policy changes all happen at once.

Some of the main changes we will face are the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, the expiration of the payroll tax cut, and the beginning of automatic spending cuts required by the debt limit law passed last August. The concern is that taking so much money out of the economy at one time, through either tax increases or a reduction in government spending on goods and services, would slow consumer spending. That would reduce businesses’ desire to increase hiring, which would lead to continued high unemployment. 

And yes, the worry is that the rapid deficit reduction will be harmful. As I explained...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 12:01 PM

In late April, the Medicare Trustees released an annual report on the financial status of the program. In their report, the trustees are required to analyze where Medicare costs are heading based on a strict reading of current law. However, there are numerous reasons to believe that these numbers do not give the full picture. As noted by the trustees, “Medicare’s actual future costs are highly uncertain and are likely to exceed those shown by the current-law projections in this report.”

To illustrate the cost picture more fully, the Medicare actuaries just released their updated 2012 “Illustrated Alternative Scenarios” which examine some of the shortcomings of the official Medicare projections.

 Medicare Cost Projection Percent of GDP 
  2030 2080
2009 (PRE-ACA) Trustees' Official Projection 6.26% 10.69%
2012 TRUSTEES' Official...
Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 8:34 AM

Throughout this painfully prolonged economic recovery, economic developments as they are reported have often been confusing. They seem to send mixed messages about the best courses of action for fiscal policy.

Sometimes we are told that more personal spending (consumption) would be good, and sometimes we are told we need to save more. Sometimes we are told that we need to reduce the government budget deficit, and sometimes we are told that continued deficit spending is needed to avoid a double-dip recession.

So what should we be doing with fiscal policy right now -- consolidating or stimulating?

The most recent economic news is that the economy’s overall growth rate has slowed and is falling short of expectations (2.2 percent annual growth rate of GDP for first quarter of 2012 compared with 3 percent in the prior quarter and 2.5 percent expected). Personal spending has slowed as well (0.3 percent monthly growth in March, down from 0.9 percent the prior month and below the 0.5 percent expected). Job gains have also weakened and are not keeping pace with the natural growth in the working-age population.

This news suggests that more private consumption spending, encouraged by continued stimulative, deficit-financed government spending and tax cuts, is needed to further expand...

Friday, May 4, 2012 - 12:00 AM

Cinco de Mayo over the years has become a popular American excuse to overindulge on nachos and beverages served in salt-rimmed glasses, but it should also serve as a reminder about the severe consequences of incurring large national debt. Many people believe that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day (September 16, but that's another story), but it's really about forestalling the bill collectors.

In 1861 the newly formed Second Republic of Mexico faced untenable debt following the Mexican-American War, the Mexican Civil War and the Reform War.  President Benito Juárez declared that the Republic would not make payments on its foreign debt for two years. Most of its debt was owed to Great Britain, Spain and France, which took exception to not being repaid in the way large countries did in those days: They sent their navies to dun the new nation, seizing the port at Veracruz as collateral.

In late 1861 the French, led at the time by Napoleon II  - as ambitious about worldly domination as his namesake - sent troops inland to recover their money, and by spring the following year had pushed Juárez and his government into exile. But on May 5, 1862, the poorly equipped Mexican army, outnumbered 2-to-1, finally held its ground at Puebla, about 80 miles from Mexico City.  The military upset has...