July 3, 2015

Posts on national debt

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - 3:46 AM

Once again we have a political punt.

With no time left on the clock, Senate Democrats and Republicans have approved a deal to avoid the most immediate consequences of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The defining feature of the deal, however, is that it leaves much more to be done.

The deal -- which the House must still vote on -- requires no hard choices and solves no difficult problems.  

There is no entitlement reform, no tax reform and no framework or process for addressing these critical needs in 2013. Meanwhile, the indiscriminate and disproportionate discretionary spending cuts mandated by last year’s Budget Control Act are postponed, creating a new cliff.

And with no increase in the statutory debt limit, it still looms as the next self-imposed crisis to remind everyone of how dysfunctional the legislative process has become on Capitol Hill.

So we have a deal, but not a grand bargain. The best that can be said for it is that it smoothes out a portion of the cliff. That will benefit the economy in the very near term, but aside from some relatively minor tax increases on the highest of income earners, the net result of the fiscal cliff deal is to preserve an unsustainable status quo. 

The unfinished business has not gone away. It has simply been handed off to the new...

Monday, November 12, 2012 - 1:00 AM

Example isn’t the main thing in influencing others – it is the only thing. – Albert Schweitzer

Increasingly alarmed by the nation’s deteriorating fiscal outlook and the failure of our political system to produce timely, common sense solutions, some state officials have begun to show leadership. They can do much more.

This year, the United States Conference of Mayors and the two leading associations of state legislators issued compelling resolutions that urge action by their federal counterparts. 

In September the mayors called for “a bipartisan and balanced approach to deficit reduction by incorporating spending cuts with additional revenue from sources such as tax code reform and closing unfair corporate tax loopholes.” In October the mayors reiterated their call for “a balanced plan for recovery that has the potential to restore the confidence of our people, and the world, in the leadership of our national government.”

The bipartisan Council of State Governments-West unanimously passed a resolution at its annual meeting in July urging Congress “...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - 11:01 AM

Congratulations to the Election Day winners. So what do Tuesday's results mean for the fiscal outlook?

Think of it this way.

If the country is on an unsustainable fiscal path, which it is, and if continued partisan bickering will not solve this problem, which it won’t, and if divided government has been re-elected, which it has, then the only choices are calamity or compromise.

The Concord Coalition urges compromise.

That must begin immediately as the two parties negotiate a responsible alternative to the “fiscal cliff” – a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that will hit with such suddenness that it could throw the still-fragile economy back into recession.

But they can’t just kick the can down the road -- again. The year-end fiscal cliff is bad, but eventually we will need the longer-term deficit reduction produced by the policies comprising the fiscal cliff. It just needs to be phased-in in a more rational way, as proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles and Domenici-Rivlin recommendations.

The key is to agree on a process for dealing with the serious and structural imbalance between spending and taxes that, if left on autopilot, will damage the economy, stress the social safety net, diminish our world leadership and leave future generations saddled with a debt burden...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - 9:32 AM

This is Part II of a two-part series of posts on the presidential candidates' fiscal policies. Part I examines Governor Romney's plans.

The first part of this blog post series looked at the unanswered questions in Governor Romney’s overall fiscal policy, tax reform plans and health care reform plans. This second part will look at President Obama’s budget plans in addition to some areas of uncertainty.

Simply by virtue of being the President, with the requirement to submit an annual budget, Obama has had to provide more details about his fiscal plans. Yet, what those details clearly show is an inadequate long-term fiscal goal. Over ten years, federal debt held by the public would only stabilize temporarily, and at a higher level than it is today.

To the President’s credit, he supports negotiating a long-term, bipartisan “grand bargain” on fiscal issues with both spending cuts and new revenues. Yet, such explicit support has come only after his initial tepid reaction to the Simpson-Bowles report when it was released. Nevertheless, if Obama is re-elected, the upcoming...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - 9:31 AM

This is Part I of a two-part series of posts on the presidential candidates' fiscal policies. Part II examines President Obama's plans.

As election day approaches, it is appropriate to look at what we know and what we don’t know about the two candidates’ fiscal policy proposals -- especially since it is unlikely we will get any more details prior to election day.

In many respects, the crucial differences between the two candidates are defined by their fiscal policies, and it is almost certain that the winning candidate’s fiscal policy choices will be as immediately consequential as any president’s in history.

In this blog post, I will review Governor Romney’s proposals and in Part II, I will cover the President’s proposals looking at three key areas: The overall budget goal, tax policy and health care.

It is difficult to overstate how little we know about where Governor Romney’s policies will lead. The basic problem is that he has...

Monday, October 15, 2012 - 10:36 AM

Watching the recent Strengthening of America forums online from my office in Wyoming, I was encouraged by how former Democratic and Republican members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries and other national experts could find such so much common ground on a course for fixing the national debt.

As the western states regional director for The Concord Coalition, I was struck by how this matches what Concord has found working with local leaders and the public here in the West and across America.

It also matches recent statements by national associations of mayors and state officials. While there remain some differences on details, it became evident that there is a much more bipartisan agreement than one sees from watching the 2012 political campaigns.

Four public forums were presented in Washington and New York City between September 12 and October 1 by Strengthening of America – Our Children’s Future, a bipartisan initiative co-sponsored by The Concord Coalition.

These forums featured a diverse collection of business leaders, former members of Congress and former government officials. They identified the key components to a comprehensive fiscal solution: tax reform that generates more revenue for deficit reduction, slower growth in health care costs, sustainable Social Security and Medicare programs,...

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...

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...

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...