Spending & Budget

Spending & Budget


Brian Blase | Nov 19, 2015
A new study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University examines the reasons behind the ACA exchanges’ failure to meet widespread expectations. The study explains the likely impact of this failure on health insurance prices and risk pool stability, bringing into question the law’s future prospects of survival without significant revisions.
Peter T. Calcagno, Edward López | Nov 12, 2015
A new study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University argues that, beginning late in the 19th century, the informal rules that govern fiscal policy began to reward policymakers for increasing spending—even for increasing it beyond the capacity of federal revenues, and therefore at the cost of chronic deficits. Despite numerous legislative attempts to constrain spending over the past 40 years, these informal rules have trumped formal constraints, and the deficit problem has marched steadily on.
James C. Capretta, Joseph Antos | Oct 27, 2015
Proponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have frequently pointed to official cost estimates projecting that the law will reduce federal budget deficits. Much less attention has been paid to the primary reason for this favorable outlook: the law’s heavy reliance on indexing important provisions to restrain spending and increase revenue. These components of the ACA will automatically impose perpetual, across-the-board cuts on payments to certain institutional medical providers; increase premiums for lower-income households; and raise taxes on an ever-expanding segment of taxpayers.
Gopi Shah Goda, John B. Shoven, Sita Nataraj Slavov | Oct 21, 2015
A study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University offers a new and important perspective on how Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) creates work disincentives for older healthy workers. The study finds that the value of SSDI benefits, relative to taxes paid, declines as an individual grows older. In particular, SSDI discourages individuals from earning additional income starting around age 40 and from working at all beyond age 60. The paper also reviews a policy option that could reduce this disincentive for older workers. To read the study and learn more about its authors—Gopi Shah Goda of Stanford University, John B. Shoven of Stanford and the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and Sita Nataraj Slavov of George Mason University and NBER—please see “Work Incentives in the Social Security Disability Benefit Formula.”…
Roger Feldman, Bryan Dowd, Robert Coulam | Oct 08, 2015
A new study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University assesses the numerous problems with Medicare’s price calculations and looks at how they affect prices in commercial insurance policies. The study proposes an arrangement of competitive bidding on bundles of services as a promising alternative to Medicare’s price-fixing regime.
David E. Bernstein | Sep 30, 2015
A new study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University describes how such an approach in Medicare Part B—which covers outpatient services such as office visits and preventive care—could enhance doctors’ participation in the program, expand choices for beneficiaries, boost innovation, and make prices more responsive to market forces. Below is a brief summary of this analysis. Please see “Restoring Freedom of Contract between Doctor and Patient in Medicare Part B” to read the entire study and to learn more about its author, David E. Bernstein, the George Mason University Foundation Professor at George Mason University School of Law.

Testimony & Comments

Jason J. Fichtner | Sep 30, 2015
Academic research and some anecdotal evidence suggests that the current budget rule of use it or lose it is not optimal and may be encouraging wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. The question remains: If such spending is indeed wasteful, what can be done to reduce it?
David M. Primo | Jul 28, 2015
My three-part message today is this. First, Congress should treat the budget process as a means, not an end, and enact reforms accordingly. Second, given the fiscal challenges facing the country, now is not the time for minor tweaking. Instead, now is the time to think big and craft a process that drives legislators to produce credible and sustainable fiscal policy by constraining federal spending both today and tomorrow. Third, any reform should include effective enforcement mechanisms, preferably constitutional in nature, to prevent the new process from suffering the same fate as the current one.
Veronique de Rugy | Jun 02, 2015
Contrary to what you will hear from its supporters and beneficiaries, the Ex-Im Bank plays a marginal role in export financing—backing a mere 2 percent of US exports each year. The vast majority of exporters secure financing from a wide variety of private banks and other financial institutions without government interference or assistance. With US exports hitting record high levels, it is obvious that such financing is abundant and government assistance is superfluous.
Veronique de Rugy | Mar 24, 2015
Policymakers who are interested in supporting the entrepreneurs and companies that will deliver the next generation of energy supplies and products should focus their attention on correcting the federal government’s hostile tax climate and dispense with the futile hopes of outsmarting the marketplace.
Antony Davies | Jul 28, 2014
There are two important unintended consequences of raising the federal contractor minimum wage: first, it can adversely affect the most vulnerable workers; and second, the rule as currently stated could be enforced in a manner so that its impact would extend to far more businesses than originally intended.
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.

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.
Jason J. Fichtner, Jacob Feldman, Jeremy Horpedahl, Brandon Pizzola, Bruce Yandle, Veronique de Rugy | Jul 15, 2013
The most basic goal of tax policy is to raise enough revenue to meet the government’s spending requirements, preferably with minimal impact on market behavior. The US tax code has long failed to achieve this goal; by severely distorting market decisions and the allocation of resources, it impedes both potential economic growth and potential tax revenue. The nation’s persistently sluggish economic growth and dire long-term fiscal outlook have increased the urgency to reform the federal revenue system. But what does successful, sustainable tax reform look like? What are its key elements? And what would it achieve?
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…

Expert Commentary

Nov 23, 2015

One of the most consequential provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is also one of its most obscure.The “productivity adjustment factor,” inserted by the ACA into the Medicare program, is a massive spending cut, one of the largest in the program’s history. It was included to make room in the federal budget for the ACA’s expensive new health insurance subsidies. If Congress follows past practice, the ACA’s higher spending will be with us long after savings from the productivity adjustment factor have been reduced or eliminated altogether.
Nov 19, 2015

In a new study published today by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, I assess key predictions made by both government and nonprofit research organizations about the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) impact. The misestimates include: overestimating total exchange enrollment, overestimating enrollment of higher income people who do not qualify for subsidies to reduce premiums, projecting too many healthy enrollees relative to less healthy enrollees, and underestimating premium increases.
Nov 19, 2015

In sum, double-digit premium increases in 2016 are a product of disappointing enrollment and insurers’ realization that a larger proportion of their enrollees are sicker and older than they expected. As premiums increase, deductibles are rising and provider networks are actually shrinking. These changes make ACA plans even less desirable to people who aren’t already sick or don’t qualify for large subsidies. The magnitude of the errors of initial predictions about the ACA’s effect is cause to re-examine our assumptions about health care markets. The failure of exchange plans to attract people who don’t receive giant subsidies should cause policymakers to revisit the law and allow people to purchase insurance products that they actually want.
Nov 11, 2015

One need not be intricately familiar with the tale of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" to appreciate that the federal budget process has similarly become an alternate reality replete with sketchy characters, peril and the absurd. In the latest trip down the Beltway rabbit hole, a Republican-led Congress relied on Democratic votes to produce a two-year budget agreement that removed the limit on Uncle Sam's credit card and increased spending now in exchange for offsetting spending cuts and revenue increases that will mostly occur 10 years from now. Well, that's if future Congresses stick to the offsets.
Nov 09, 2015

International tax regulators have been busy devising ways to increase taxes on international businesses. Recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released its long awaited proposal to curb international tax avoidance, but the United States should first worry about its own domestic corporate tax code. The OECD proposal aims to centralize global tax rules and increase effective tax rates on international firms. U.S. technology firms such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple will likely be harmed the most.
Nov 06, 2015

The Affordable Care Act has generated an enormous amount of partisan rancor, but with more access to data, it is worth taking stock of how it has actually been working. We can safely say that the policy is costing less than anticipated, perhaps 20 percent less, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate, and that it has reduced the number of Americans without insurance. But the numbers also suggest that by some measures, the Affordable Care Act has had only a limited impact on economic inequality.


The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, freshly signed into law by President Obama, suspends the $18.1 trillion federal debt ceiling until March 2017. It also busts the 2011 Budget Control Act—which I previously discussed—for the second time. It does so by raising the caps on discretionary funding by $50 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2016 and $30 billion for FY 2017.


Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a nationally syndicated columnist. Her primary research interests include the U.S. 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.
Charles Blahous is the director of the Spending and Budget Initiative, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and has served as 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.
Brian Blase is a Senior Research Fellow with the Spending and Budget Initiative at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
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.
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.


Veronique de Rugy | November 02, 2015
Veronique de Rugy discusses the challenges that Paul Ryan will face as the new Speaker of the House as well as the current state of the budget deal on WITC radio (Connecticut).

Upcoming Events

Recent Events

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University invites you to join Dr. Jerry Ellig, Dr. Jason Fichtner, and Dr. Patrick McLaughlin for a Regulation University to discuss how the budget and regulatory process operate in isolation to each other, and reform options that could improve both systems.


Joseph Antos, Charles Blahous, James C. Capretta, Robert Graboyes, Jason J. Fichtner, June O’Neill , Nina Owcharenko , Thomas P. Miller, | Apr 08, 2014
Top experts explain everything you wanted to know about Medicaid—from federal-state financing to potential reforms.

Media Clippings

Jason J. Fichtner | Jul 28, 2014
This excerpt originally appeared in The Daily Caller.
Jason J. Fichtner | Jul 24, 2014
This excerpt originally appeared in FOX Business.
Jason J. Fichtner | Jul 17, 2014
This excerpt originally appeared in FOX Business.
Charles Blahous | Jun 04, 2014
This excerpt originally appeared in CQ and also appeared Roll Call.
Veronique de Rugy | May 20, 2014
This excerpt originally appeared in Wall Street Journal.
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