Debt & Deficit

Debt & Deficit

Research

David M. Primo | Mar 11, 2014
Alternative presentations of the same budget data tend to offer very different impressions, creating opportunities for a deeper understanding of fiscal health. However, these measures sometimes reflect hidden assumptions about government finances, so even a seemingly neutral way of presenting data often isn’t so neutral. The ability to give different impressions with the same budget data creates the opportunity for policy mischief, as one can tell very different stories about fiscal policy depending on the measure used. We can assess the appropriateness of various spending adjustments by understanding the underlying assumptions in the measures, how to use the measures analytically, and how they might be used strategically. The paper looks at measures of government spending over time, as well as budget forecasts, to demonstrate this logic in practice. It concludes with a case study of President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget.
David M. Primo | Jan 21, 2014
The United States faces severe fiscal challenges—most notably, the unsustainable growth of entitlement spending and a mounting debt burden that raises concerns about the government’s ability to pay it back without strangling economic growth. These threats reflect the inability of Congress and presidents to make the hard choices necessary to restore fiscal responsibility to the federal budget. …
Laurence Kotlikoff | Dec 12, 2013
Every country faces an intertemporal budget constraint, which requires that its government’s future expenditures, including servicing its outstanding official debt, be covered by its government’s future receipts when measured in present value. The present value difference between a country’s future expenditures and its future receipts is its fiscal gap. The US fiscal gap now stands at $205 trillion. This is 10.3 percent of the estimated present value of all future US GDP. The United States needs to raise taxes, cut spending, or engage in a combination of these policies by an amount equal to 10.3 percent of annual GDP to close its fiscal gap. Closing the gap via raising taxes would require an immediate and permanent 57 percent increase in all federal taxes. Closing the gap via spending cuts (apart from servicing official (debt) would require an immediate and permanent 37 percent reduction in spending. This grave picture of America’s fiscal position effectively constitutes a declaration of bankruptcy.
Jerry Brito | Sep 12, 2013
The success of BRAC shows how to overcome public choice dynamics at a time of crisis. These lessons apply today, but they must be understood correctly. While creating a small commission or task force to tackle a problem has many advantages, it is just one aspect of what made BRAC succeed. A spending commission modeled on BRAC should be focused, independent, composed of disinterested citizens given clear criteria for their decisions, and be structured in a way that allows its recommendations to be operative unless Congress rejects them. This prescription is the only way that a spending commission has a chance to actually result in spending cuts.
Bruce Yandle | Jun 17, 2013
The US economy is creating new wealth and growing employment, albeit at a slow pace. But uncertainty is the key word that describes the economic situation at mid-2013. There are major unknowns with respect to Fed policy, taxing and spending, the effects of Obamacare on employment, the implementation of Dodd-Frank financial reform, regulatory policy affecting the production of electricity, and the prospects for Europe’s recovery from an extended recession. Add to this pallid picture reductions in growth in China, India, and the developing world taking some of the edge off the global boom, which, in spite of that growth haircut, is still tugging away on America’s export growth.
Robert J. Barro , Veronique de Rugy | May 07, 2013
While the impact of across-the-board federal defense-spending cuts on national security may be up for debate, claims of these cuts’ dire impact on the economy and jobs are grossly overblown.

Testimony & Comments

David M. Primo | Jul 24, 2014
Constitutional rules, unlike statutory or internal rules, are difficult to change. If written to cover the entire budget, avoid loopholes, and make waivers difficult to obtain, Constitutional rules can provide the enforcement mechanism that will help ensure that specific reforms to entitlements, defense, and other spending areas will not be undone by future Congresses.
Jason J. Fichtner | May 21, 2014
Social Security faces real financial challenges. Dismissing the real and current fiscal challenges facing the Social Security system and kicking the “reform can” further down the road will only increase the severity of the burden associated with reforms when they inevitably must take place.
| Dec 15, 2011
Anthony Sanders testified before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs on the role of the U.S. in addressing the European debt crisis.
David M. Primo | May 13, 2011
David Primo testified before the House Committee on the Judiciary on whether the Constitution should be amended to address the federal deficit.
Veronique de Rugy | Feb 17, 2011
Veronique de Rugy testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about wasteful government spending.
Veronique de Rugy | Jun 30, 2010
Well over a decade of irresponsible fiscal policy has created an unsustainable fiscal situation for the United States. The longer we delay serious consideration of meaningful solutions, the larger the problem will become.

Research Summaries & Toolkits

Veronique de Rugy, Jason J. Fichtner | Oct 10, 2013
As federal government borrowing is set to exceed yet another debt limit, most are quick to recall—and wish to avoid a repeat of—the 2011 debt-limit showdown. If current rhetoric is any indication, it appears many of the last debate’s lessons have been forgotten. Regrettably, it seems many of the debate’s facts have been forgotten as well.
| Sep 24, 2013
The Mercatus State Policy Guide is intended to summarize and condense the best research available on the most relevant topics. It’s a starting point for discussion, not a comprehensive overview of economic policy. Each statement is supported by academic research, with links provided in the endnotes. Mercatus scholars are available to further explain the results of their studies. We hope the guide will prove to be a valuable tool in your economic policy research.
| Jul 23, 2013
The Mercatus Policy Guide is intended to summarize and condense the best research available on the most pressing topics. It serves as a starting point for discussion, not a comprehensive overview of economic policy. Anyone who wants to go deeper into these studies should consult the references listed at the back. Mercatus scholars are available to further explain the results of their studies. We hope the guide will prove to be a valuable tool in your evaluation of economic policy.
Veronique de Rugy, Jason J. Fichtner, Charles Blahous, Matthew Mitchell | Mar 15, 2013
Despite years without a federal budget, trillion-dollar deficits, and ad hoc, crisis-driven fiscal and economic policies that failed to deal with the looming entitlement crisis, leaders on both sides in Washington are now touting seemingly miraculous progress toward a “fix” to our budgetary woes.
Jason J. Fichtner, Veronique de Rugy | Jan 25, 2013
The debt ceiling, or the legal limit the federal government may borrow, is set currently at $16.4 trillion.[1] In his latest report, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner predicts that the United States will need to increase the debt ceiling sometime between February 15, 2013, and early March 2013.[2] The Congressional Research Service estimates the federal government will have to issue an additional $700 billion in debt above the current statutory limit to finance obligations for the remainder of FY2013…
| Feb 13, 2012
This policy brief takes a look at the president's FY2013 budget proposal and emphasizes the need for fundamental reform in the areas of spending, taxes, and the budget process.

Expert Commentary

Jul 21, 2014

In its July budget report to Congress, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget praised President Obama for presiding over the “most rapid sustained deficit reduction since World War II.” The president also deserves credit, we are told, for a budget that achieves a core goal of “fiscal sustainability.”…
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Jun 30, 2014

Around and after the time that the Affordable Care Act was enacted, many analysts identified problems with claims being made about the law, and we offered explanations of its likely actual effects. Too often these were brushed aside amid efforts to promote the ACA in the face of growing public opposition. But four years into the ACA, it is remarkable how well our predictions have been borne out.
Mar 03, 2014

Below, scholars with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University—the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas—look ahead to key policy areas the president will likely focus on in his 2015 budget submission.
Feb 27, 2014

The president's budget is scheduled to come out next week. It is late again. Unfortunately, we can expect that the president didn't use this extra time to find responsible solutions to put the country on a sustainable financial path. Instead, we can expect more of the same: more spending, more class warfare tax proposals and no real commitment to reform entitlement spending. In light of this, I have a few questions I would like to ask the president.
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Feb 21, 2014

In sum, federal fiscal policy decisions in recent years added enormously to deficits and have produced the highest levels of spending, deficits, and debt relative to GDP since the aftermath of World War II. I leave it to others to determine whether this can reasonably be termed “austerity.”…
Feb 20, 2014

Switzerland will soon hold a nationwide referendum on granting a guaranteed and unconditional minimum monthly income of $2,800 for each Swiss adult. In America, where Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty just celebrated its 50th anniversary of failing to achieve victory, liberals jumped on the Swiss news to reconsider the un-American-sounding idea of a universal basic income.

Charts

This week’s charts use data from CBO and the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) historical tables to display cumulative federal spending and revenues projected over the next decade along with a time series plotting of the Steuerle-Roeper Index of Fiscal Democracy, developed by Eugene Steuerle and Tim Roeper, which measures the percentage of federal revenues remaining for discretionary spending after mandatory outlays and interest payments have been covered.

Experts

Charles Blahous is the director of the Spending and Budget Initiative, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a public trustee for Social Security and Medicare. He specializes in domestic economic policy and retirement security (with an emphasis on Social Security), as well as federal fiscal policy, entitlements, demographic change, and health-care reform.
Antony Davies is a Mercatus Center–affiliated senior scholar at George Mason University and associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. He also is a member of the Research Program on Forecasting at George Washington University. He specializes in econometrics, public policy, and economic psychology.
Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Her primary research interests include the US economy, the federal budget, homeland security, taxation, tax competition, and financial privacy. Her popular weekly charts, published by the Mercatus Center, address economic issues ranging from lessons on creating sustainable economic growth to the implications of government tax and fiscal policies. She has testified numerous times in front of Congress on the effects of fiscal stimulus, debt and deficits, and regulation on the economy.
Jason J. Fichtner is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. His research focuses on Social Security, federal tax policy, federal budget policy, retirement security, and policy proposals to increase saving and investment.
Matthew Mitchell is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he is the lead scholar on the Project for the Study of American Capitalism. He is also an adjunct professor of economics at Mason. In his writing and research, he specializes in economic freedom and economic growth, public-choice economics, and the economics of government favoritism toward particular businesses.

Podcasts

Veronique de Rugy | September 02, 2014
Veronique de Rugy discusses the CBO report on the federal debt on the John Batchelor Show.

Recent Events

Please join us for breakfast on Tuesday, May 6, with one of Mercatus’ affiliated scholars, Dr. Antony Davies, Associate Professor of Economics at Duquesne University, to discuss intended and unintended consequences of the current U.S. debt and deficit.

Media Clippings

Sarah Arnett | Jan 17, 2014
The Mercatus Center cited at Philly.com.
Veronique de Rugy | Oct 08, 2013
Veronique de Rugy cited at USA Today.
Charles Blahous | Aug 01, 2013
“It was never a short-term problem to begin with,” Blahous said in a telephone interview. “To say that the short-term outlook is better is irrelevant to the structural problem of promising more than we can pay for.”…
Veronique de Rugy | Jul 16, 2013
Mercatus Center Economist Veronique de Rugy found, “Between fiscal years 2007 and 2010, annual wind subsidies grew from $476 million to nearly $5 billion.”…
| Feb 27, 2013
Tyler Cowen cited at the Wall Street Journal.
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