July 28, 2014

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Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 12:40 PM

I’m thrilled to announce that The Concord Coalition is laying the groundwork for the 2011 session of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation Fiscal Internship Program. Piloted last year, this program awards stipend-supported internships focused on fiscal issues at different public policy institutions around Washington, DC. While each intern works on their own project with a scholar at a hosting institution, all students in the program come together once a week over the 10-week session for a seminar with a participating organization. With the generous support of the Peterson Foundation, this program introduces students from around the country to the political and policy realities of the federal budget, and gives them hands-on experience in defining solutions to our nation’s fiscal challenge.

Last summer’s successful first run of the Fiscal Internship Program placed five students with internships where they worked on projects ranging from tax expenditures and pension programs, to the complex relationships between federal, state, and local budgets. While each internship experience was unique, the chance to come together each week helped the group develop a shared understanding of the federal budget, and the landscape of institutions that study it. 

For the summer of 2011, we have expanded the opportunities of the...

Monday, February 7, 2011 - 10:20 PM

A flurry of commentary greeted the unsurprising news last week that Social Security is paying out more than it is taking in. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Social Security cash deficit for 2010 was $37 billion and will rise to $45 billion this year. The one-year payroll tax holiday enacted in December would actually leave the 2011 deficit much larger ($130 billion), but general revenues will be credited to Social Security to make up for the loss of payroll tax income.

Looking ahead, CBO now projects that Social Security will run perpetual cash deficits, amounting to $547 billion through 2021. By that year, CBO projects that Social Security outlays will exceed cash income by $118 billion.

Viewed as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP), Social Security’s cost will grow from 4.8 percent this year to 5.3 percent in 2021.

Running a cash deficit does not mean that full benefits cannot be paid. When there is a shortfall in cash income, Social Security can draw on its trust fund balance to continue issuing checks. Currently, the trust fund has a balance of $2.7 trillion and is projected to remain “solvent” until 2037. But this method of “financing” only serves to demonstrate why the government’s largest program will become a growing budgetary challenge.

The trust funds...

Monday, January 10, 2011 - 12:16 PM

Urban Institute scholar Gene Steuerle has run the numbers and found that for Medicare, retirees are getting a really good deal.

In a fascinating set of calculations, Steuerle and colleague Stephanie Rennane, looked at both Social Security and Medicare and estimated the levels of benefits relative to taxes (and premiums for Medicare) paid for many different levels of income and years of retirement.

For Social Security, prior generations received substantially more benefits than taxes paid, while current retirees and those in the future who earn average and above-average wages are scheduled to receive slightly less cash benefits than taxes paid. The lowest income workers are scheduled to still get more in benefits than taxes paid. 

For Medicare, however, their conclusion is that, "Past and current retirees, and most working age adults, will never pay for all of their benefits."

The basic reason is that Medicare payroll taxes, which only go towards Medicare Part A (hospital insurance), combined with premiums (which are set at levels to pay for about 25 percent of Medicare Part B costs), only cover 51 to 58 percent of total Medicare ...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - 2:49 PM
With the ink barely dry on a $858 billion tax cut and emergency spending bill, lawmakers were hit with an official reminder last week that steps to rein in the nation’s growing debt cannot be postponed much longer.

According to the 2010 Financial Report of the U.S. Government, released on December 21 by the Treasury Department, “under current policies and the assumptions used in this report the debt-to-GDP ratio will continually increase over the next 75 years and beyond, which means current policies are not sustainable.”

The report further warns, “the longer policy action to avert these trends is delayed, the larger the projected revenue increases and/or spending decreases necessary to reach a target debt-to-GDP ratio.”

These conclusions were contained in a new section of the annual Financial Report titled ”Statement of Long Term Fiscal Projections.” In assessing the present value of projected non-interest spending and revenues over the next 75 years, the report estimates an average gap of 1.9 percent of GDP. Persistent deficits of this magnitude would cause the debt-to-GDP ratio to steadily rise from 62 percent...

Thursday, December 16, 2010 - 4:55 PM

The legal term severable normally gets little notice outside the world of constitutional law -- yet now it has become a big buzzword amongst health care analysts and federal budget wonks. The reason has to do with the numerous legal challenges to the Accountable Care Act's individual mandate to purchase health insurance. 

A U.S. District Court Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia recently declared the mandate unconstitutional. He also declared it severable from the rest of the health care reform legislation. This means that even though he found that one provision is unconstitutional, he held that the rest of the legislative package is constitutional and can continue on its path to full implementation. If the courts ultimately agree with this judge's interpretation, the budgetary results could become disastrous without congressional action.

While we have discussed the primacy of the individual mandate in making health care reform work (here and here,) it makes sense to revisit the issue of...

Monday, December 6, 2010 - 11:54 AM

By now we've seen a number of proposals for fiscal sustainability from groups with very different perspectives. Some of the harshest critics of the bipartisan deficit-reduction panels are liberal-leaning groups that argue that the recommendations of the President's commission, as well as those of the Bipartisan Policy Center and the MacGuineas-Galston plan, leaned too heavily toward the conservative side and proposed packages that were too heavy on spending cuts and too insistent on keeping taxes (too) low. (I may agree that I would have preferred more revenue increases in the overall mix than the President's commission proposed, but I don't think that should lead me to declare the overall proposal "dead on arrival" or to reject the the individual policies contained within it.)

I've looked at two...

Monday, November 22, 2010 - 5:52 PM

My least favorite argument in deficit reduction debates is that a particular option can’t be chosen because it is too unpopular. If that criterion is strictly applied, we might as well fold our tents and wait for the inevitable fiscal crisis because we’ll never eliminate trillion-dollar deficits with “popular” options.

That message was clearly conveyed last week by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, led by two veterans of past deficit-reduction efforts, Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin. Their report followed a similarly tough message from Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairs of the President’s bipartisan fiscal commission.

Elected officials have not flocked to embrace these reports and it is easy to see why. They propose spending cuts in popular programs. They challenge cherished tax breaks and raise revenues in the process. They produce howls of protest from powerful interest groups on the political left and right.

But they each do one more thing: They outline plausible paths to a sustainable fiscal policy.

As a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s task force, I’m very proud of the resulting report. We worked together in a spirit of cooperation and compromise....

Monday, November 22, 2010 - 4:23 PM

When a panel of fiscal experts took the stage at The Concord Coalition’s annual Economic Patriots Dinner last week, nobody was expecting a lot of happy talk about the federal debt. But the immediate sense of urgency may have caught some listeners off-guard, with one panelist -- Robert Rubin, former Treasury secretary -- warning about a possible “implosion” if large numbers of investors suddenly lost confidence in the United States.

The panel members did not sound particularly optimistic that elected officials would take appropriate action anytime soon, although Sen. Kent Conrad did see a “glimmer of hope” that President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission could produce recommendations backed by the required 14 of its 18 members.

Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, received Concord’s annual Paul E. Tsongas Economic Patriot Award at the dinner Tuesday in New York. Other panel members were Concord Co-Chairman Bob Kerrey and David Walker, CEO of the Comeback America Initiative. Peter G. Peterson, Concord’s founding president, served as moderator.

“We are on the cusp of real danger and real risk,” Conrad warned. He worried that the rapidly growing federal debt could at some point not only hurt economic growth but cause a “severe break” in the value of the dollar. Rubin echoed his concern.

“...

Thursday, November 11, 2010 - 3:07 PM

The problem with campaign rhetoric is that you’re stuck with it if you win.

The danger is that people might just believe you can really do all the wondrous things you promise and if you don’t deliver, they get angry. That, in part, helps to explain what happened to President Obama and congressional Democrats last week.

Now, it’s the Republicans’ turn to see if they can live up to their campaign rhetoric. On the fiscal front, they have set a very high bar for themselves.

Republicans campaigned on a written pledge to put the nation on a path to a balanced budget by cutting spending and not raising taxes.

It is easy to see the political appeal in that promise. Most people think the deficit is too big and that the federal government spends too much. Very few want to see their taxes go up.

The problem with the Republicans’ pledge is that the numbers don’t add up.

Forget ideology and just look at the projections. Last year’s deficit came in at $1.3 trillion. This year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects a deficit of $1.1 trillion. Beyond then, CBO projects 10-year deficits totaling $6.2 trillion.   

...

Monday, November 1, 2010 - 12:15 PM

By the end of the week, the political landscape in Washington will have changed. We will have a new Congress and attention will quickly turn to the 2012 presidential contest.

Yet, regardless of who ends up in charge of Congress, or who begins making frequent trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, certain facts will remain the same.

Health care costs, including Medicare and Medicaid, will still be growing faster than the economy. Social Security will still promise more benefits than it can pay under current law. We’ll still be fighting two wars. The costs of extending all the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts will still top $4 trillion. The economy will still be stagnant. And for all these reasons, the debt will still be on an unsustainable track.

Welcome to Washington, 112th Congress. The nation awaits your solutions to these continuing threats.

Not since 1992, when independent presidential candidate Ross Perot captured 19 percent of the popular vote, has fiscal policy been such a dominant issue in a national election. Voters are clearly uneasy with trillion dollar deficits and a growing debt that is on track to reach World War II levels over the next decade.

As retiring...