September 17, 2014

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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,...

Monday, October 1, 2012 - 11:15 PM

As part of the Strengthening of America -- Our Children's Future project that The Concord Coalition is co-sponsoring, a forum was held last week in New York on the topic of pro-growth tax reform.  The video of the full event is available here.  In the first part of the forum Martin Feldstein, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors and a Romney adviser, joined Lawrence Summers, former Treasury secretary and an Obama adviser, to discuss what they considered pro-growth tax policy. 

At the event, Feldstein and Summers made it clear that when it comes to this subject, there is a lot of common ground between Republican economists and Democratic economists.  Here’s what I heard as some of the main points of agreement between Feldstein and Summers (what Summers referred to as the "structure that Marty and I have converged on"):

1.      Pro-growth tax reform means structuring the tax system to encourage longer-term expansion in the productive capacity (or "supply side") of the economy.

2.      This...

Monday, October 1, 2012 - 10:04 PM

The latest version of our budget game, the Federal Budget Challenge, has been online for only two weeks, yet has been played by over 5,000 people from almost half of the states in the nation. The Challenge lets players examine over 50 different policy choices, along with their budgetary impacts over 10 years, and decide for themselves whether and how they would reduce the nation’s budget deficits.

The new version, built with our partners from the California-based non-profit Next 10, is now touch-screen playable and has built-in integration with Twitter and Facebook. Like the previous version, as well as the group exercises it was based on -- Principles and Priorities and Debt Busters -- the Challenge offers the opportunity to learn about many of the public policy options being debated in Washington, along with arguments for and against each choice.

The choices already being made by players are quite interesting in that the least and most popular selections are deeply intertwined with the political brinksmanship threatening to push the nation into economic turmoil with the looming “fiscal cliff” at the end of December. 

The most unpopular choice is the policy...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 10:45 AM

Who says deficit hawks have to be pessimistic?

Nearly two years ago two prominent bipartisan groups produced comprehensive plans to put the federal budget on a sustainable course. On Monday, at the second forum of the new Strengthening of America initiative, co-sponsored by The Concord Coalition, the four co-chairs of those panels explained how they did it -- and expressed reasonable hopes that elected officials would eventually be able to do so as well.

Most members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform reached agreement on a bipartisan plan that Co-Chair Erskine Bowles described as balanced and reasonable. "They did it," he said, "because they thought it was the responsible thing to do, because they thought it was the right thing to do."

He added: "I’m convinced that if we do this, the future of this country is very, very bright, and we can compete with anybody, with the best and brightest wherever they are."

In addition to Bowles, a former White House Chief of Staff,...

Friday, September 14, 2012 - 11:45 AM

This week The Concord Coalition and several other organizations kicked off an initiative called Strengthening of America – Our Children’s Future focused on the nation's worsening fiscal situation. Former Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) have convened a bipartisan group of former members of Congress for a series of forums in the weeks leading up to the presidential debates. Nunn and Rudman are Concord’s co-chairs.

Speakers at the first forum emphasized that the most difficult problems are more political than economic.

The country has the strength and capacity to deal with its budget challenges, they said. It is the political will to act that is in question, with many elected officials reluctant to make difficult choices and seek bipartisan cooperation.

James A. Baker III, a former Treasury secretary, said in the forum on Wednesday that a grand bargain to put the country on a more responsible path would require “something that’s become a dirty word” in Washington: “Compromise.” He called for a “heroic effort” to achieve such a deal for the sake of the country’s future.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 12:19 PM

The ultra-low interest yields on U.S. Treasury bonds seem to suggest "not much." Some of this is because relative to the fiscal positions of other countries, the U.S. economy seems relatively more capable of supporting the public debt. But it may also be because the pricing of government bonds is less an efficient reflection of the inherent market riskiness of the bonds than it should be. According to a former Moody's analyst, bond rating agencies currently do not rate public bonds using the same kinds of objective measures used to rate private bonds, possibly understating the true risk in holding U.S. Treasury debt. 

Bond markets appear to be pricing Treasury debt as if it is risk free. However, if fiscal imbalances are not resolved, bondholders face the risk of losing value due to inflation and could suffer an outright default. While these risks are minimal in the short term, 30-year Treasury bond investors receiving sub-3% yields are not being compensated for the risks they are shouldering. Meanwhile, U.S. policymakers are only encouraged to keep deficit financing additional spending and tax cuts, because deficit financing seems nearly "free" compared with the alternative of proposing offsets (revenue increases or spending cuts) which have obvious costs.

But deficit financing is not ...

Monday, August 13, 2012 - 9:59 AM

Last week the Tax Policy Center (TPC) released this distributional analysis of the Romney tax plan, exploring how the plan could be made revenue-neutral, as Romney has claimed it would be.  The TPC analysis found that it is impossible to pay for Romney’s proposed additional tax cuts (which are skewed heavily toward upper-income households ) with base-broadening revenue offsets (which according to the Romney plan cannot include increasing the taxation of capital income) without increasing tax burdens on net for most Americans.

What does the TPC analysis actually tell us about the Romney tax plan?  It’s well summarized in Figure 2 of the TPC paper, which decomposes the bottom-line conclusion that a revenue-neutral Romney plan would give generous tax cuts to households with incomes above $250,000, paid for with net tax increases on everyone else, into two parts:

(i) how much the tax cuts from the tax rate reductions are skewed toward wealthier households, and

(ii) how much the revenue offsets from (Romney-limited) base-broadening are skewed toward lower- and middle-income households.

 Combined, we would end up with a revenue-neutral (relative to a business-as-...