April 25, 2014

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Monday, April 2, 2012 - 12:00 AM

A rare display of bipartisan fiscal cooperation broke out on Capitol Hill last week when 38 House members (22 Democrats and 16 Republicans) braved an onslaught of interest group pressure to vote in favor of a budget resolution designed to rein in the deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. The budget plan, offered by Representatives Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Steven LaTourette (R-OH) as an amendment to the House budget resolution, was based on the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission. It came 15 months after a bipartisan majority of that commission put forth a credible and comprehensive plan to address the deficit and was the first budget plan based on the commission’s work to come up for a vote in the House or Senate.

While the nays on the Cooper-LaTourette amendment outnumbered the yeas by 10 to 1, the very existence of a bipartisan budget alternative signaled an important breakthrough. It demonstrated growing frustration with the starkly partisan plans that members are routinely pressured to choose from and established a framework upon which future bipartisan efforts can be built.

There is little doubt that future efforts will be needed.

Legislation will have to be enacted by the end of the year unless Congress and the President want to allow all expiring tax...

Friday, March 30, 2012 - 1:38 PM

 

Sometimes it can seem like none of our elected representatives are willing to buck their own party leaders, let alone vote for something because it’s for the good of the country, rather than serving some ideological purpose.

That’s why bipartisan support this week in the House to use the Simpson-Bowles commission recommendations to guide the 2013 budget was like a breath of fresh air. No, the amendment did not come close to passing, but the 38 members who broke ranks and voted aye are true heroes of fiscal responsibility. Political considerations took a backseat to doing the right thing, and we enthusiastically commend these brave men and women for stepping up and being counted:

Jim Cooper (D-TN) Sponsor
Steven LaTourette (R-OH) Co-sponsor
Rob Andrews (D-NJ)
Charlie Bass (R-NH)
Dan Boren (D-OK)
Leonard Boswell (D-IA)
Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY)
John Carney (D-DE)
James Clyburn (D-SC)
Jim Costa (D-CA)
Henry Cuellar (D-TX)
Charlie Dent (R-PA)
Bob Dold (R-IL)
Chaka Fattah (D-PA)
Chris Gibson (R-NY)
Jim Himes (D-CT)
Tim Johnson (R-IL)
Ron Kind (D-WI)
Rick Larsen (D-WA)
Dan Lipinski (D-IL)
Cynthia Marie Lummis (R-WY)
Pat Meehan (R-PA)
Ed Perlmutter (D-CO)
Collin...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 - 11:26 AM

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has released a new report by Jane Gravelle and Thomas Hungerford called “The Challenge of Individual Income Tax Reform: An Economic Analysis of Tax Base Broadening.” In a nutshell, the report could be called “Base Broadening Is Hard to Do.” 

The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery summarized it nicely on Friday, including this Republican staffer’s sarcastic reaction to the report:

“Reports suggesting tax reform isn’t easy are greatly appreciated. We look forward to future reports on water being wet,” said Sage Eastman, a senior aide to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), whose panel drafted the principles for tax reform laid out in the Ryan budget.

The CRS report emphasizes that although the 200-plus tax expenditures for individuals under the federal income tax are worth more than $1 trillion per year, the largest 20 of them...

Monday, March 19, 2012 - 12:02 PM

There has been a lot of confusion recently about whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health care reform legislation passed in 2010, is now projected to cost substantially more than previously estimated.

The short answer is no -- the costs are still tracking pretty closely to the trajectory projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in 2010. The main reasons for the recent confusion involve a new estimate from the CBO and the fact that it has been two years since the legislation passed, putting us two years closer to the time it will be fully implemented.

The CBO just updated its cost estimate of one particular part of the ACA, the part dealing with insurance coverage. This part of the legislation will require nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance coverage and creates the exchanges, subsidies, and expanded Medicaid program that will provide the new coverage. Most of these measures fully come online beginning in 2014 and involve new spending that CBO accounts for as the “gross costs” of the insurance provisions. This part of the legislation also brings in new revenue to the government in the form of penalty payments and, starting in 2018, an excise tax on high-cost insurance plans. Once CBO takes these revenues into account, it creates a “net cost” of the coverage provisions.  ...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 9:40 AM

As political candidates offer vague promises of spending restraint and Congress considers the administration’s new budget, Americans face an unpleasant fiscal landmark: before we get to the election in November, the national debt will exceed the U.S. economy’s entire annual production.

The debt has not exceeded the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) since World War II. Once that war was over, however, the debt stabilized and then steadily fell as a percentage of the economy.

Unfortunately, nothing like that is on the horizon today. On the contrary, government projections show the federal debt – which recently topped $15.5 trillion -- continuing to increase rapidly in the years ahead as we continue to borrow and as today’s unusually low interest rates eventually rise toward their historic average.

The Concord Coalition’s projections, based on reasonable assumptions about future decisions by elected officials, show federal debt snowballing even more rapidly than government projections do. And if the economy falters, the debt would grow even faster.

Even sweeping fiscal reform plans, such as those recommended a year ago by President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission, envision the federal debt continuing to rise for decades.

A few facts about the federal debt to keep in mind:

+ It consists...

Monday, March 12, 2012 - 12:14 PM

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 - 10:32 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 - 1:00 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 - 9:58 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 - 3:13 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...