September 1, 2014

Posts on economy

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Monday, July 14, 2014 - 11:18 AM

With the economy continuing its slow recovery, the administration’s Mid-Session Review budget projections released on Friday show little change in the overall outlook. Under the President’s policies, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) anticipates a deficit for the current fiscal year of $583 billion, down $66 billion from the administration’s March projection and far below the trillion-dollar-plus deficits that came with the Great Recession.

It is important to remember, however, that the federal debt -- high by historical standards, at nearly $17.6 trillion -- remains a deep concern, even with quite favorable economic and political assumptions.

Under its proposed budget, the administration says, the 10 annual deficits over the next decade would add another $5.5 trillion to that total. That is up by nearly $600 billion over the March budget.

While the deficit is lower than the earlier projection for 2014-16, it is higher in all subsequent years. The biggest change is that revenues are now projected to be $760 billion lower over the coming decade.

As a result of higher deficits in the out years, debt held by the public is now projected to be slightly higher (72 percent of GDP) in 2024 than projected in the March...

Friday, February 28, 2014 - 4:41 PM

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) released a detailed discussion draft on comprehensive tax reform Wednesday that eliminates inefficiencies in the tax code and makes it simpler. The Concord Coalition commends Chairman Camp for his efforts. The shame is that it looks like the rest of Congress and the President are desperate to avoid discussing how to improve upon it and then enact a reform plan.

Camp’s proposal effectively leaves the tax code with three tax brackets: One at 10 percent, one at 25 percent, and an additional 10 percent surtax for high earners. To achieve this consolidation and lowering of rates without adding to the deficit, Camp’s plan limits, discards or merges many of the code’s tax expenditures -- special provisions that favor certain behaviors, individuals and businesses. The proposal significantly alters “sacred cow” provisions like the home...

Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 4:07 PM

State lawmakers across the country are debating how to spend large surpluses after the economic recovery helped produce higher-than-expected tax collections for the second year in a row.

State legislatures and governors have welcomed this change after years of enacting painful spending cuts to balance their budgets. But they are waging battles both within and between their political parties about how to spend the extra money.

In a year when up to three dozen governors could run for re-election, as well as countless more state legislators who could be on the ballot, many of the proposals have unfortunately focused on short-term measures.

State officials should consider how to use at least part of their surpluses to improve the long-term health of their budgets instead of just haggling over whether to use the surpluses to finance short-term tax cuts or spending increases. A recent Concord blog post highlighted a report by the State Budget Crisis Task Force that said states have done little to address the long-term structural problems in their...

Friday, January 31, 2014 - 11:34 AM

For those interested in a vision of fiscal sustainability, the State of the Union Address was a major disappointment.

President Obama noted that the deficit has been cut in half, which is a positive development, but he offered no strategy for making further progress. At $680 billion and 4.1 percent of the economy, last year’s deficit was still quite high. More troubling is that fiscal policy remains on an unsustainable path -- a projection that deserved at least some passing mention.Obama briefly acknowledged that more could be done to bring down the deficit “in a balanced way,” but the general sense was that it was time to move on.

Few would dispute that creating new jobs is a top priority, but that task is compatible with a continued focus on fiscal sustainability. Indeed, a properly phased-in fiscal sustainability plan would improve the economic outlook. Moreover, the budget agreement hailed by the President did little to address either.  

When the President did mention fiscal issues in his speech it was mostly to promote new spending or tax cuts with no cautionary reminder that even a “pay-as-you-go” standard will...

Monday, January 13, 2014 - 5:02 PM

The national taxpayer advocate, who serves as ombudswoman for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), released her annual report last week, saying budget reductions have “significantly hampered” the agency’s ability to provide top-quality service. While additional funding would undoubtedly help, an even better way to help taxpayers and collect revenue more effectively would be for Congress to eliminate many tax expenditures. 

Nina Olson’s report notes that IRS funding has decreased by nearly $1 billion, or 8 percent of its budget, since Fiscal Year 2010.

Her report says that shrinking budgets for the agency mean “fewer dollars available to fund all federal programs.” Restoring the lost funding, she said, would lead to more effective revenue collection and could help reduce the budget deficit.

The annual report came after a very tough year for the agency. The IRS became embroiled in controversy when it was revealed that it had applied extra scrutiny to some political advocacy groups that had applied for tax-exempt status. Olson’s office issued a special...

Friday, December 6, 2013 - 3:19 PM

Extending emergency unemployment compensation for another year would add 200,000 jobs but carries a price tag of $25 billion, according to an analysis released recently by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Such an extension now appears to be a central focus of negotiators trying to reach a budget deal before Congress adjourns for the year.

Emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) provides more “bang for the buck” than many other policies aimed at improving the economy. It provides an immediate surge in economic activity due to recipients quickly spending their benefits on consumer goods and services, which boosts aggregate demand and induces businesses to increase production and hire more workers.

CBO noted that part of this positive effect is offset as some workers reduce the intensity of their job searches in response to the extension of benefits.

Emergency unemployment compensation was approved in 2008 as the unemployment rate was rapidly rising due to the recession. It provides at least 14 additional weeks of benefits to individuals who have exhausted...

Monday, October 7, 2013 - 4:13 PM

Lawmakers struggling with the Fiscal 2014 budget will face an even tougher challenge funding the government in future years as interest payments rise to record levels, squeezing other parts of the budget and making it more difficult to quell rising deficits.

Although slow economic growth and Federal Reserve monetary policies have kept interest rates at record lows in recent years, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects rates to rise steadily in the coming years, making interest payments the fastest growing part of the federal budget.

For Fiscal 2013, CBO estimates interest payments totaling $223 billion, or 1.3 percent of GDP. By 2023, interest payments are expected to climb to $823 billion, which is 3.1 percent of GDP -- a percentage that has only been exceeded once in the past 50 years. By 2038 the figure would increase to 4.9 percent.

Rising interest payments would make a larger share of revenue unavailable for spending on federal programs; to prevent the deficit from growing larger, rising interest payments would either crowd out spending on federal programs or cause taxes to go up.

Assuming Washington eventually navigates its immediate budget and debt limit difficulties, interest rates are expected to rise in the next few years due to an improving economy. Yet, if interest rates are even...

Monday, September 9, 2013 - 9:48 AM

Syria is not the only challenge Congress faces as it returns to Washington from its August recess. Monday was the first of only nine legislative days that both the Senate and House of Representatives will be in session before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. Congress will need to approve a spending plan before then and take action on the debt limit not long after that.

Unfortunately, little progress has been made towards passing a budget this year. The budget resolutions adopted by Senate Democrats and House Republicans are $91 billion apart in overall spending levels, and no appropriations bills have been signed into law.

House Republicans have only been able to muster support for their deep proposed spending reductions in five of twelve appropriation bills, while the only appropriations bill brought to the Senate floor was defeated by a filibuster.

With so little time left on the legislative calendar, Congress is extremely unlikely to finish its appropriations bills on time. That would leave lawmakers with an important choice: adopt a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the government or allow it to shut down.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the government could default within weeks unless Congress raises the debt ceiling. The Treasury warns that it will run out of "...

Friday, August 30, 2013 - 12:55 PM

This year will mark the end of a four-year string of trillion-dollar-plus federal deficits that have troubled the American public and caused turmoil on Capitol Hill.

Fiscal Year 2013 is drawing to a close with a projected deficit of a little over $640 billion, down from $1.1 trillion last year. That’s good news, but it should hardly be considered an “all clear” signal on the nation’s fiscal and economic challenges.

Here are eight reasons why:

1. While the deficit is going down, the federal debt is still going up.

The government is still borrowing a substantial amount of money this year, and that is all being added to the accumulated debt, which is approaching  $17 trillion. That’s why elected officials -- despite their usual lamentations and finger-pointing -- have no choice but to raise the debt limit at some point in the next few months. The real question is what they will do to prevent the debt from growing in the future to unsustainable levels.

2. This year’s lower deficit can be largely attributed to short-term economic factors rather than systemic reforms in the federal budget

During difficult economic times with high unemployment, federal deficits rise as...

Monday, July 22, 2013 - 2:36 PM

For those who follow the credit rating agencies’ assessments of the United States, the past several weeks have offered mixed messages. Overall, some improvement has been noted, mostly due to the steadily improving economy and the declining deficit. Concerns remain, however, about the long-term outlook and the ability of elected leaders to raise the nation’s debt ceiling without provoking a crisis.  

When Moody's Investors Services upgraded the U.S.'s credit-rating outlook from "negative" to "stable" last week, it warned that without further action in Congress, the rating could be under pressure again in the future.    

Moody's observed that, "over the longer term, a rise in the fiscal deficit associate[d] with pressure on government spending from health care and Social Security could also pressure the rating if not addressed."  

Nevertheless, Moody’s provided the most upbeat assessment for the U.S. of the three main agencies, which also include Fitch Ratings and Standard and Poor’s. Aside from the switch to a stable outlook, Moody’s maintained its AAA rating for the U.S..

In a ...