Spending and Budget Initiative

Spending and Budget Initiative

The Spending and Budget Initiative draws on a team of university economists and policy practitioners with diverse expertise in government spending and budget reform, assembled to provide policy makers an honest understanding of budgets, spending, deficits, and debt and how these issues relate to economic growth and progress. Mercatus scholars work alongside policy makers to identify fiscally responsible policies and actionable options for budget reform.


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.
Mark J. Warshawsky, Ross Marchand | Sep 10, 2015
A new study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University finds that part of the problem can be traced to a flaw in the SSDI program’s administrative structure: even if an applicant is twice denied disability benefits by the Disability Determination Service, he or she can often obtain benefits by appealing the rejection to an administrative law judge (ALJ). This study analyzes ALJ decisions using case studies, economic literature, descriptive statistics, and econometric analysis.
Jason J. Fichtner, Adam Michel | Jul 14, 2015
A new study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University surveys the current economic literature on research and development tax incentives. The study investigates design and implementation problems the R&D credit faces, including legal ambiguities, policy uncertainty, insufficient definitions of “research,” and special-interest lobbying.
David R. Henderson | Jun 30, 2015
Many observers think that it is impossible to cut federal government spend- ing as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But it can be done. And the evidence is hidden in plain sight: it’s called the 1990s. Between 1990 and 2000, federal spending fell from 21.85 percent of GDP to 18.22 percent, a drop of 3.6 percentage points. Most of the reduction was in defense spending after the Cold War ended. Domestic spending also fell slightly as a percentage of GDP. This drop cannot be attributed to higher economic growth in the 1990s because average growth in the 1990s was the same as growth in the previous two decades.
Whitney Afonso | Jun 24, 2015
While the federal government has taken the lead in implementing efforts toward greater transparency—for example, by creating the easy-to-access website Recovery.gov to enable visitors to track the spending of stimulus money —state and local governments are following suit by providing more online information about how they spend taxes. Proponents of increased transparency in the public sector, including elected officials and citizens, believe that transparency is an important tool for holding governments accountable and reducing corruption. In a period when trust in government has hit a record low (24 percent in 2014 and a record low of 19 percent in 2013), increased transparency is viewed as a way of promoting trust and cooperation between government and its citizens.

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 | 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.
Neil Meredith | Dec 22, 2014
This comment considers the potential impact of the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) proposed rule change to the Multi-State Plan Program (MSP) for the affordable insurance exchanges created through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. The purpose of the proposed rule is to further explain OPM’s direction in meeting the statutory requirements of the MSP program concerning health issuers that establish an MSP option with OPM.
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 | Sep 23, 2015
As I underscored in two recent charts, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is financially unsustainable, and to save it, policymakers need to rein in benefits, which have exploded in recent years. This week’s charts add two important points: first, that SSDI has turned into a quasi-unemployment program, and second, that the good intentions that prompt the creation of federal programs are not enough to prevent poor and costly outcomes.



Jason J. Fichtner | July 20, 2015
Jason Fichtner discussing tax reform on C-Span.


Veronique de Rugy | September 29, 2015
Tax code reform is often discussed during presidential races but is rarely implemented. Veronique de Rugy discusses why on Marketplace on American Public Media.

Recent Events

| March 14, 2013
Please join us for a casual reception where you can take a break from March Madness and meet some of our scholars who can provide the kind of practical information you need to be most effective in your work.


| Sep 29, 2015
In a new set of essays commissioned by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, seven leading policy experts share innovative ideas on how to solve the pre-existing condition challenge. While their approaches exhibit differences as well as similarities, they are unified in their pursuit of a humane, equitable, fiscally sustainable solution to a conundrum that has driven and strained the entire post–World War II healthcare debate.
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