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.

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.
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.
Jason J. Fichtner, Adam Michel | Mar 17, 2016
The system for international corporate income taxation is at risk of losing its most valuable feature—diversity and competition. The Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Project of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development attempts to change the international tax system by transferring control of corporate taxation from individual nations to an international body. This shift favors consolidated and uniform tax rules but sacrifices compliance efficiency, taxpayer rights, and nations’ ability to set the tax policies best suited to their populations.

Testimony & Comments

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.
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.

Research Summaries & Toolkits

Charts

Peter T. Calcagno, Edward López | Jul 19, 2016
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

Videos

Veronique de Rugy | February 02, 2016
In the hearing titled “Unsustainable Federal Spending and the Debt Limit" before the Financial Services Committee, Veronique de Rugy testified on fundamental spending reform.

Podcasts

Veronique de Rugy | May 25, 2016
Veronique de Rugy talks about the government’s attempted, but ineffectual, fix for VA hospitals.

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.

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.
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