August 22, 2014

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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...

Monday, April 16, 2012 - 4:23 PM

On today's federal tax filing deadline, it just so happens that Congress and the Administration have been thinking of different ways to raise tax burdens on the rich. Last week I participated in a “Tax Day” event at the Tax Policy Center called “Should the Rich Pay Higher Taxes?”, speaking on a panel which also included TPC’s director Donald Marron, former CBO director and former McCain adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin (now president of American Action Forum), and economist rich guy (and a member of the “Responsible Wealth” coalition) David Levine.

TPC’s Howard Gleckman moderated the event (and blogged about it afterward, here) and at one point asked each of us “Who is rich?”  I at first didn’t know how to answer that; “rich” is a relative concept that depends on one’s personal “baseline,” of course!  But then I considered the focus of the event – what the tax burdens of “the rich” should be -- and I realized that in a sense, all of us, collectively at least, might be considered “rich,” in that U.S. taxes are quite low relative to our national...

Monday, April 16, 2012 - 3:01 PM

It’s getting to be that time again when the Social Security and Medicare Trustees release their annual report on the programs’ 75-year outlook. This report is the source of valuable information, but it often causes confusion because of the different conclusions that can be drawn depending upon whether one looks at trust fund balances, which are positive, or at cash flows, which are negative.
 
Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
 
The Concord Coalition has always stressed the importance of cash flows over trust fund balances. As the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has observed, government trust funds “have important legal meaning but little economic or budgetary meaning.”1
 
This is because trust fund “assets” are nothing more than promises from the government to pay itself a lot of money in the future regardless of whether any resources have been saved for that purpose. Trust fund balances are thus easily manipulated to increase their claims on general revenues.
 
Two recent examples demonstrate why trust fund balances should be taken with a grain of salt. One involves a grant of spending authority (new bonds) to the Social Security trust funds unsupported by any new income. The other involves cutting spending from Medicare and raising Medicare payroll taxes to...

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...