Spending & Budget

Spending & Budget

Research

Brian Blase, Doug Badger, Edmund F. Haislmaier, Seth J. Chandler | Jun 28, 2016
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) significantly altered the rules governing health insurance, especially in the individual market. While the law has increased the number of people with health insurance, lower-than-expected enrollment in the new health insurance exchanges and significant insurer losses have resulted in substantial premium increases and insurer withdrawals from state markets. These negative outcomes cast increasing doubt on the ACA and its long-term sustainability.
Daniel Sutter | Jun 21, 2016
Medicaid was established in 1965 as a joint state and federal program to provide medical insurance to Americans who are poor and have disabilities, and it has grown from 1 percent to 3 percent of GDP. The source of Medicaid’s growth over the past 50 years must inform efforts to reform the program and slow spending. The literature on the political economy of Medicaid provides strong evidence of interest group and political ideological influence, enabled by the open-ended federal match for state spending.
Mark J. Warshawsky | Jun 16, 2016
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has ignited a debate over inequality that has significantly impacted public perceptions and policy debates in the United States. Piketty uses hundreds of years of income data to make bold predictions about future income inequality and justify aggressive policy reforms—including a global tax on capital—to tackle the issue. But are Piketty’s conclusions and policy prescriptions really grounded in economic theory and solid empirical results? In a new study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, economist Mark J. Warshawsky reviews and critiques Piketty’s analysis and proposals. Warshawsky finds several significant flaws in Piketty’s methodology for estimating future inequality and in his suggested reforms to the tax code. Warshawsky’s review also summarizes the criticism of Piketty’s book by other academics and Piketty’s responses to this criticism.
Mark J. Warshawsky | Jun 10, 2016
Concern about income inequality has dramatically shifted public attitudes toward economic and fiscal policy, and the subject of inequality has increasingly dominated the political debate. But the discussion has focused almost exclusively on comparing the earnings of lower- and higher-paid workers, and on promoting redistributive policies aimed at “correcting” this disparity. New research finds, however, that both scholars and politicians have largely overlooked a key contributor to earnings inequality: the role of rapidly increasing healthcare costs.
James C. Capretta | May 24, 2016
The fundamental problem with the nation’s finances—and thus the problem our budgetary procedures should focus on solving—is the runaway expense of entitlement programs, often described as “mandatory spending.” The current budget process does not force policymakers to confront the pressure that these massive programs exert on the federal budget. The process also lacks a ready mechanism for bridging the predictable conflicts that occur between the president and Congress.
Brian Blase, Doug Badger, Edmund F. Haislmaier | Apr 22, 2016
This is the first in a series of papers in which we provide the most comprehensive analysis to date of the impact of the ACA on the individual and small group insurance market in 2014. In this overview, we provide information on how insurers fared in their first year selling QHPs—plans that satisfy all of the ACA’s requirements and are certified to be sold on exchanges—using a data set compiled from medical loss ratio form that insurers are required to file with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Testimony & Comments

Jason J. Fichtner | Jul 13, 2016
My testimony focuses on three key issues: first, the extent of the Social Security financial shortfall; second, whether we’re actually facing a so-called “retirement crisis;” and third, how the current structure of the nation’s largest retirement program, Social Security, provides disincentives to work and save and is in need of modernization if the program is to fit the needs of the twenty-first century and achieve fiscal sustainability.
Maurice P. McTigue | Jul 06, 2016
My view on a successful reform strategy is to first create a concept of what this activity would look like in a perfect world. Once you are satisfied that you have identified what the very best new systems and procedures would look like, it is necessary to identify what it is possible to get done. You will then know what has been traded off to produce a solution that is doable. It is also possible to design today’s reform in such a way that it does not eliminate future desirable reforms that would cumulatively improve the process.
Maurice P. McTigue | Apr 12, 2016
Today I will comment on “wasteful and duplicative spending,” and discuss how better, more transparent budget processes are the first step, but not the solution, to controlling such spending. I would like to make three main points. First, changing the focus to the desired outcomes in the budget process is essential to controlling duplicative spending. Second, comparing the results of all activities that impact the same outcome is critical in allocating resources to the most effective activities and maximizing outcome achievement. And third, budget procedures matter when it comes to controlling spending, based on evidence from state governments and overseas.
Jason J. Fichtner | Mar 22, 2016
My testimony focuses on two key issues. First, I will explain how the current-law Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) is overly complex and unfair. Second, I will discuss how reforming the Social Security benefit formula would improve the simplicity and fairness of the WEP, while still maintaining the original public policy purpose. Additionally, though most of my testimony focuses on the WEP, a related provision, the Government Pension Offset (GPO), has similar complexity and fairness problems that should be addressed.
Jason J. Fichtner, Adam Michel | Mar 22, 2016
The OECD hopes that the new reporting standards will provide tax administrators with useful information to more effectively direct auditors while making it easier to identify artificial profit shifting to tax-advantaged environments. This public comment will argue that the accounting costs of country-by-country reporting will be larger than the Department of the Treasury’s revenue gains and that there will be even higher unanticipated costs from inadvertent disclosures of sensitive information. Because the costs of information centralization will be greater than the benefits, we recommend that the IRS should not implement the proposed regulation on country-by-country reporting. This recommendation is informed by a recent paper from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University that explains key features of the international corporate tax system, the changes the OECD wants to make, and the potentially far-reaching consequences of those changes. The study also provides recommendations to improve corporate taxation without compromising state sovereignty or taxpayer rights.
Veronique de Rugy | Feb 02, 2016
The heated rhetoric coming in March 2017 about whether Congress should raise the debt ceiling will obscure the federal government’s real problem: an unprecedented increase in government spending and the future explosion of entitlement spending has created a fiscal imbalance today and for the years to come. No matter what Congress decides to do about the debt ceiling, the United States must implement institutional reforms that constrain government spending and return the country to a sustainable fiscal position.

Research Summaries & Toolkits

Jason J. Fichtner, Veronique de Rugy, Matthew Mitchell, Angela Kuck, Adam Michel | May 25, 2016
The nation’s persistently sluggish economic growth and dire long-term fiscal outlook have increased the urgency of the need 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?
J. W. Verret, Marc Joffe | Apr 28, 2016
J. W. Verret and Marc Joffe debate whether Puerto Rico should be allowed to restructure its debt. After 10 years of recession and poor fiscal management, Puerto Rico is facing a major fiscal crisis. With $72 billion in debt (the equivalent of the commonwealth’s entire economy), deeply distressed pensions, high unemployment, and outmigration, Puerto Rico is insolvent. Congress is deliberating on legislation to provide a framework for Puerto Rico to restructure its finances under the guidance of a federal control board. The most contested point in the current proposal is whether to allow the board broad authority to restructure debt.
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.

Speeches & Presentations

Expert Commentary

Jul 21, 2016

The Congressional Budget Office recently released its long-term budget outlook. There isn't much new there; we are still in the red, and it will only continue to get worse. Considering the extent of the problem, you would think someone on the campaign trail would pay attention. Yet no presidential candidate really is.
Jul 20, 2016

As a start, HHS should make all the data available, including the average costs of expansion enrollees by state. In addition, Congress should closely scrutinize managed care contracts that states are making with insurers as well as any actions that HHS is taking to guard against outrageously high federal payments for the expansion population.
Jul 13, 2016

Next year the White House will have a new occupant, but one thing is almost certain not to change: a U.S. foreign policy driven by mind-boggling sums of taxpayer money.
Jul 11, 2016

Fiscal adjustments based on spending cuts signal that a country is serious about getting its house in order. More taxing and spending do not.
Jul 11, 2016

In fact, the Social Security crisis is not only real; it is already upon us. The trustees now estimate that the 75-year financial shortfall for the combined trust funds is $11.4 trillion in present-value terms. If we indefinitely extend past the 75-year period, the so-called "infinite horizon," the shortfall is a whopping $32.1 trillion. For comparison, our nation's gross domestic product is slightly over $18 trillion – and our gross national debt (not including unfunded liabilities) at the end of June is $19.3 trillion.
Jul 08, 2016

But if the structure of Medicaid produces unintended growth and wasteful spending, a design flaw so to speak, real reform might be accomplished without harming the people who rely on it.

Charts

Whether today’s policymakers intend or realize it, the evolution of informal and formal fiscal rules continues to shape today’s fiscal policy outcomes. This has led to chronic deficits, mounting debt, a dizzying complexity of tax and budget procedures, and unsustainably large unfunded obligations—all leading toward an overall bad and worsening fiscal outlook. Any serious discussion of reform must start by recognizing the current incentive structure embedded in the budget process. Piling on more formal constraints, without addressing the shifts in the informal rules, will be futile.

Experts

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 associate professor of economics at Duquesne University, Mercatus Affiliated Senior Scholar, and Strata Research Fellow. Davies has authored over 150 op-eds for, among others, the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Forbes, Investors Business Daily, and New York Daily News.
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.

Podcasts

Veronique de Rugy | July 06, 2016
Veronique de Rugy appears on KCRW-FM (California) radio's show “To The Point” to discuss universal basic income.

Recent Events

Join Mercatus senior health care scholar Brian Blase, senior regulatory fellow Patrick McLaughlin, & senior budget reform fellow, Jason J. Fichtner, for a Capitol Hill Campus that will showcase Mercatus resources & explore how congressional staff can more effectively use our research.

Books

Jason J. Fichtner, Jason S. Seligman | Mar 2016
This book was published by The McCrery-Pomeroy SSDI Solutions Initiative, and includes a chapter by Mercatus scholars Jason Fichtner and Jason Seligman.

Media Clippings

Mark J. Warshawsky | Jun 22, 2016
This excerpt originally appeared at The Washington Post on June 22, 2016.
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.
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