Report: Long-term budget issues present fiscal threat to U.S.

National Debt

TL;DR version: This is a pretty long post dealing with a subject that generally fascinates only those interested in fiscal policy. The short of what you need to know is that the CBO expects the economy to perform better in the short-term, with higher revenues and lower budget deficits. But the rising costs of entitlements and the cost of servicing the national debt will drive up spending substantially over the long-term with the public’s share of the national debt becoming equal to the size of the economy (or GDP). As if the baseline scenario isn’t concerning enough, the alternative fiscal scenario is even more of a disaster. All charts below come directly from the CBO’s report.

Forget Syria or the still ongoing war on terrorism. The real security threat is the national debt. That’s what Admiral Mike Mullen warned in 2010. Those words still ring true today, especially after reading the latest long-term budget projections released yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The annual report presents the federal budget outlook for the next 10 years (2013-2023) as well as provides a look into long-term projections relative to both current law and alternative scenarios, the latter of which most economists believe present a more realistic view of the United States’ fiscal health.

CBO Director Doug Elmendorf told reporters yesterday that the “federal budget is on a course that cannot be sustained indefinitely.”

CBO long-term budget outlook shows nothing new

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released the 2011 Long-Term Budget Outlook yesterday. As you might expect, both sides are talking up the aspects of the report that play to their talking points. For example, if you listen to our progressive/liberal friends, they’re quick to point to charts in the report showing that budget deficits wouldn’t be as large if the 2001/2003 tax cuts hadn’t been extended. Of course, most, if any at all, don’t acknowledge that the CBO also says this in the report:

Changes in marginal tax rates (the rates that apply to an additional dollar of a taxpayer’s income) also affect output. For example, a lower marginal tax rate on capital income (income derived from wealth, such as stock dividends, realized capital gains, or the owner’s profits from a business) increases the after-tax rate of return on saving, strengthening the incentive to save; more saving implies more investment, a larger capital stock, and greater output. However, if that lower marginal tax rate increases people’s after-tax returns on savings, they do not need to save as much to have the same future standard of living, which reduces the supply of saving. CBO concludes, as do most analysts, that the former effect outweighs the latter, such that a lower marginal tax rate on capital income increases saving. A higher marginal tax rate on capital income has the opposite effect.

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