Post P100618 from Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com/ Debt of the U.S. Federal Government, Past and Future Although much of the debate over fiscal policy focuses on stimulus vs. austerity in the short term, it is also important to look further ahead. These debt projections look half a century into the future.
Post P100618 from Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com/ What Lies Behind the Projections? What assumptions are used to make projections so far into the future? Why is there such a wide range of projected rates of debt growth? Why do both the CBO’s lowest and highest projections show a debt that explodes to unsustainable levels?
Post P100618 from Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com/ The Baseline Scenario The lower limit of future debt projections is given by a baseline scenario By law, the CBO’s 10-year baseline scenario is based on the assumption that there will be no changes in tax or spending laws For its long-term projections, the CBO extends this assumption far into the future. It is not intended to be realistic, but it provides a starting point. Extended Baseline Scenario
Post P100618 from Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com/ The Alternative Fiscal Scenario The alternative fiscal scenario assumes that Congress will continue to make certain changes in laws that it has repeatedly made in the past: It will not allow the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire in full at the end of 2010, as they are scheduled to do It will raise the minimum income level for the alternative minimum tax It will pass a “doc fix” law that blocks pending cuts to Medicare payments* Alternative Fiscal Scenario *On June 17, 2010, the Senate rejected a doc fix bill. Some observers fear that this will cause some doctors to stop accepting Medicare patients. Further action to pass doc fix in 2010 is still possible.
Post P100618 from Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com/ Interest Rate Assumptions Interest rates are another source of uncertainty in long-term projections The CBO makes the conservative assumption that the US will be able to borrow at rates close to the historical average even as debt increases to new highs Some countries, like Greece, have experienced sharp rise in rates as their debt has increased, triggering a crisis (see chart) Others, like Japan, have managed to keep rates low even with very high debt ratios
Post P100618 from Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com/ The Role of Entitlement Spending Growth of entitlement spending, especially Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, is the biggest source of future increases in the federal debt and deficit Entitlements are elements of the federal budget that are determined by formulas in long-term legislation, in contrast to discretionary spending, like defense or education, which is set by annual Congressional appropriations.
Post P100618 from Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com/ Sources of Growth in Entitlement Spending The US population is aging, especially as baby-boomers reach retirement Medicare costs are growing faster than income per capita (“excess cost growth”) In the next 20 years, entitlement growth is driven mostly by aging, which cannot be much affected by policy changes After that, excess growth of medical costs are the main factor. These could, in principle, be affected by policy
Post P100618 from Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com/ Effects of 2010 Health Care Legislation Data in previous slides do not include effects of 2010 health care bill The CBO estimates the bill will slightly reduce the deficit, especially in the first few years
The effects are small because most major cost-control measures were too controversial to make it into the health care bill as passed by Congress
On balance, the 2010 health care bill does not greatly affect long-term budget projections
Post P100618 from Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com/ Effects of Delaying Fiscal Adjustment To bring the budget to sustainability, it must be adjusted by reducing noninterest spending or increasing taxes or a combination of the two Because interest expense grows as the debt grows, the needed adjustment becomes larger each year that adjustment is delayed
Post P100618 from Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com/ The Bottom Line “Under current law, the federal budget is on an unsustainable path” “The choice facing policymakers is not whether to address rising deficits and debt but when and how to do so.” “The longer that policy action on the budget is put off, the more costly and difficult it will be to resolve the long term budgetary imbalance.”