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CBO Reports More Debt Ahead if Congress Stays the Course
Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a rather dismal long-term budget outlook that illustrates how “persistent deficits” will make our debt continue to climb over the decade ahead. The projections show that the debt will increase from 74 percent of GDP in 2014 (already twice as high as the 35 percent of GDP seen as recently as 2007) to 77 percent in 2024. Even worse, there is no end in sight thereafter unless serious reforms are implemented. Some news outlets are trying to paint a rosier than deserved picture of the report by focusing on the fact that the CBO’s projection is slightly less terrible than previous projections by about $400 billion or .8 percent, but the debt and deficit problems cannot be ignored.
Here are three major take-aways taxpayers should have from CBO report:
1. The Budget Control Act was a success – but we need to do more to curb spending.
The CBO report notes that:
The federal budget deficit has fallen sharply during the past few years, and it is on a path to decline further this year and next year.
The federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2014 will amount to $506 billion, CBO estimates, roughly $170 billion lower than the shortfall recorded in 2013. At 2.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), this year's deficit will be much smaller than those of recent years (which reached almost 10 percent of GDP in 2009) and slightly below the average of federal deficits over the past 40 years.
This temporary deficit reduction is largely thanks to the modest spending restraint imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. For those who suggested that the BCA and subsequent sequester would be nothing short of disastrous for our economy and society writ large, the numbers beg to differ. Unfortunately, the BCA doesn’t completely put the brakes on spending and budgets are on track to continue to creep upward, albeit at a slower pace than before.
Unfortunately for taxpayers, even as the CBO confirms the BCA was a success, some legislators are working to undermine those spending caps, hoping to pass to a budget-busting bill as soon as this fall, potentially during a lame-duck session of Congress when legislators feel less accountable to their constituents. Taxpayers need to urge their legislators not to bust the BCA’s caps and to do more to rein in spending.
2. The debt is still growing – thanks largely to out-of-control entitlement spending.
The CBO report explains that even as deficits have fallen for the time being, our debt has grown under the BCA and will continue to do so. This is largely due to massive growth in spending in mandatory spending on entitlement programs, which are largely unaffected by BCA spending limitations. Over the next decade, discretionary spending is expected to increase by “only” about 20 percent. During the same time period, mandatory spending will sky-rocket:
Boosted by the aging of the population, the expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance, rising health care costs per beneficiary, and mounting interest costs on federal debt, spending for the three fastest-growing components of the budget accounts for 85 percent of the total projected increase in outlays over the next 10 years:
3. Increased taxes won’t solve this debt crisis.
The CBO’s report projects revenues will grow at an annual rate of 4.9 percent, yet makes it clear that these potential revenue increases aren’t nearly enough to close the spending gap. What continues to be apparent is the increasing debt continues to erode our potential prosperity and hampers economic recovery. Policy options such as closing tax “loopholes” and otherwise increasing revenue will only further imperil our already fragile economy.
Though the future may look grim, Congress has many opportunities to ensure that the CBO’s latest projects are an unfulfilled prophecy. Enacting legislation that will put people back to work, reform entitlements, and reduce wasteful spending would all ensure that the next CBO projection isn’t quite so bleak.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
If you haven’t heard about the Export-Import Bank, here’s a quick rundown of the basics:
While budget-neutral in theory and often on paper, this notion is perpetuated only through faulty accounting and misleading statistics. Let’s debunk some of the rumors running wild on Capitol Hill.
If we take a closer look at Ex-Im’s transactions, the bank’s financing becomes even more questionable. In many cases, large corporations benefitting from Ex-Im financing could have received loans from the private sector. In other instances, the Ex-Im-backed ventures were so risky that private lenders would not fund them. In either scenario, U.S. taxpayers should not be responsible for providing low-interest loans that are unnecessary or unlikely to be paid.
To demonstrate the true horror of what Ex-Im does with our money, the House Financial Services Committee created a blog series titled “Egregious Ex-Im Bank Deal of the Day.” Each weekday, the staff publishes another awful deal that Ex-Im decided was worthy of taxpayer funding. Remember Solyndra, the failed manufacturer of solar panels? After receiving $535 million from the stimulus package, Ex-Im officials decided the now-bankrupt company could use additional help, in the form of a $10.3 million loan guarantee for a foreign supermarket chain to buy Solyndra’s products. In a recent deal, the Australian Roy Hill Iron Ore project received a $694 million loan from Ex-Im after the private market refused to offer financing. Not only are Americans funding this without their consent to bear the risk, but the project will compete with U.S. mines, jeopardizing domestic jobs. Possibly the most egregious deal yet has been $4.975 billion in direct loans to assist building Sadara Chemical Company, a project of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia. If the Saudi Arabian government needs American exports for its pet project, they can likely finance those purchases without help from U.S. taxpayers.
If that weren’t enough reason to let Ex-Im’s authorization lapse, in addition, the bank’s transactions are fraught with bribery and cronyism. Abengoa International, a Spanish green-energy company, managed to receive about $150 million in total loans from Ex-Im, to no one’s surprise, since former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson sat on the board for both the company and the bank. Four other Ex-Im officials are currently undergoing investigations of bribery and favoritism. While Ex-Im is financing growth for our foreign competitors, including Russia and Brazil, the U.S. continues to experience economic and employment hardships at home. Rather than risking taxpayers’ dollars for the benefit of other countries, it is time to let the Export-Import Bank expire.1 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
What are the long-term implications of government spending, and how should policymakers reign in the current trend of unsustainable federal expenditures? Those questions were the focus of a recent event hosted by the Cato Institute, entitled Federal Budget Outlook: It’s Worse Than You Think, featuring Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Cato’s Director of Tax Policy Studies Chris Edwards.
In FY 2013, the federal budget deficit was a staggering $680 billion, and expenditures topped $3.9 trillion. That pattern is projected to continue going forward, with some estimates showing current spending at 20.4 percent of GDP (projected to rise to 31.8 percent by 2040).
Edwards considered five categories of federal spending:
Despite recent deficit decreases, spending on subsidy and benefit programs are growing at an annual rate of 6.7 percent. This spending increase results from the proliferation of entitlement programs including: Social Security, Medicare, SNAP (food stamps), unemployment benefits, agricultural subsidies, refundable tax credits, and so forth. Below is a visual graphic demonstrating the aforementioned categories.
Edwards noted, “the U.S. Constitution does not create an open-ended role for the federal government to transfer wealth or aid to the states. Yet today those two activities account for about two-thirds of federal spending.”
Senator Johnson’s main argument was that reporting by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is fundamentally flawed, allowing an administration to mask the severity of fiscal crises. CBO typically sticks to a ten-year budget window, but Johnson contended that some fiscal scenarios warrant a thirty year window, especially as demographic changes like the aging of the baby boomer generation impact the long-term stability of Social Security, Medicare, and other federal entitlement programs. The Senator said that ultimately, these programs amount to “inter-generational theft.” A sense of urgency has not yet set in among lawmakers because CBO does not adequately report the long-term effects of current fiscal policy.
The speakers suggested that America can move towards budgetary solvency if it eliminates wasteful spending (those that cost more than the benefits they yield) and respects the 10th Amendment. They also suggested that policymakers should work towards reducing regulatory and bureaucratic inefficiencies that cost taxpayers time and money, and open the door to cronyism and abuse.
At the current spending rate, the deficit will soon be many, many trillions. Senator Johnson finished the talk by imploring, “Please, God, don’t tell Washington what comes after trillions.”
Thanks to Paul Bartow for drafting this post.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Government Spending Gone Wild: California’s Record Setting Budget
California legislators and Governor Jerry Brown just approved the state’s largest budget to date at $156.3 billion, continuing the Golden State’s affinity for out-of-control spending. The budget plan, which goes into effect on July 1st, includes funding for greater preschool access, increasing welfare grants, and expanding public health care. Despite the looming $74 billion unfunded teachers’ pension liability, lawmakers even included plenty of funding for the high-speed railway.
In 2008, Californians voted in favor of Proposition 1A, approving borrowing over $9 billion to fund a high-speed railway that could take a train from Los Angeles to San Francisco in only 2 hours and 40 minutes. The ballot measure was backed by 8,000 words of legislation, now under close scrutiny. Last November, a Sacramento judge ruled that the state agency was not in compliance with the strict language of the proposition. With those funds tied up in court, the recent budget allots 25 percent of profits from the state’s cap and trade program for construction.
The budget sets the general fund, which pays for most of California’s expenditures, at $108 billion, a major 9.6 percent boost over last year. Income taxes supplied 67 percent of the general fund for fiscal year 2012-2013, and the latest budget relies on the income and sales tax increases from a November 2012 ballot initiative. These increases expire after seven and four years, respectively, which will likely leave legislators scrambling for new revenue to maintain the state’s reckless spending.
California is oft noted for its fiscal troubles, having one of the worst credit ratings of all of the states, second to Illinois. Some of these difficulties stem from not saving during times of expansion to prepare for future recessions. In an effort to change, the legislature has deferred to voters the final decision on the California Rainy Day Budget Stabilization Fund Act. If passed, the proposition would require the state’s controller to deposit 1.5 percent of general fund and capital gains revenues into the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA) when they exceed 8 percent of the general fund.This savings plan could improve California’s credit rating, but first, the state must pay down its debt. The proposition would also require that starting in 2015 and lasting until 2030, 50 percent of BSA revenues be used to pay outstanding fiscal obligations. While this might be a step in the right direction, based on current projections of general fund revenues and California’s debts, it will take decades for the state to pay its obligations and the BSA will grow at a glacial pace. With high-speed rail construction estimated to cost $68 billion and last until 2029, it’s clear that California legislators should reassess priorities and focus on maintaining financial solvency. This will require taking bolder steps toward reining in state spending and imposing real fiscal discipline in Sacramento. 0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Florida’s 19th Special House Election: A Budgetary Guide
In what some are calling a quiet election, there’s still a lot to be said. Though the challenges of taking drug tests have largely been replaced with who can help create the most jobs in the next five months, before the next election for the same office, Florida residents are asking the same questions of candidates as they did in Florida’s other recent special House election: What will you do in Washington, D.C.? Especially in the wake of their last Congressman, Trey Radel, who resigned after being arrested for possession of cocaine.
In just a couple of short months, three front runners have emerged to battle for the 19th District’s seat: businessman Curt Clawson (R), businesswoman and former political activist April Freeman (D), and former health worker Ray Netherwood (L). Each candidate offers different general solutions to America’s fiscal ills but details have yet to come out about how each would actually change the federal budget. However, by using a methodology similar to National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s (NTUF) BillTally project, taxpayers can see where the candidates stand on at least some of the spending issues. For this brief study, we took direct quotes and campaign materials of candidates and matched them with budget and legislative data to see exactly what the differences and similarities are.
Similar to the New Jersey Special Senate and Florida’s 13th Special House elections, details were few and far between. Even with the campaigns releasing economic plans and platform summaries, we’re still left asking what will they do if elected as the House of Representative’s newest member?
Check out the entire line-by-line analysis of all three candidates. As with NTUF’s other BillTally and campaign studies, only changes in current spending are recorded (similar to the Congressional Budget Office). The reports do not include changes in revenues or costs outside the federal government. Below are summaries of each candidates’ proposals.
Curt Clawson (R) has proposed two (out of 12) quantifiable policies that NTUF was able to score. Combined, they would decrease annual spending by $395.8 billion. The largest budget-influencing item that he supports would cap federal expenditures at 19 percent of GDP, which would be implemented using the “Penny Plan,” which would cut spending by one percent each year as long as the budget is not balanced.
April Freeman (D) has two (out of 12) policy items that NTUF could fiscally score. Together, they would increase spending by $20.203 billion each year for the next five years. Her largest quantifiable proposal would overhaul the immigration system.
Ray Netherwood (L) had one proposal that NTUF could identify. It would be to replace the current income-based tax system with a national sales tax, known as the Fair Tax. The measure would cut an average $19 billion in federal outlays for each of the next five years.
Normally, there would be some overlap between the candidates’ platforms. In the other Florida Special Election, the front runners supported increasing current spending by $180 million per year to delay a scheduled rate increase for the National Flood Insurance Program. That was not the case in this House race, although the three candidates were not asked similar questions when interviewed by the same source.
What does this mean for taxpayers and residents of the 19th District? It’s time for the campaigns to give Americans more details. While candidates are asking Floridians for their vote, taxpayers are asking for the roadmap of each candidate’s path to reach a better and expanding economy. As highlighted above and in the full report, the absence of budgetary facts and figures opens the possibility that all of the candidates could have much larger or smaller spending aspirations in mind. Clawson, Freeman, or Netherwood need only clarify their intentions with dollar figures to help complete this report and help educate Americans on important and pressing issues that we’re all facing.
Note: National Taxpayers Union Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our research efforts are intended only to educate Americans on how their tax dollars are being or will be spent by those in office, seeking office, or in appointed positions. For more information on NTUF go here.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
(VIDEO) Sequester-pocalypse Fear Mongering vs. Reality
Congratulations! If you're watching this video, you're one of the 312 million Americans who narrowly survived the "Sequester-pocalypse"!
Not a Fan of $1 Million Bus Stop? How about $672K?
ARLnow.com, a local news site for Arlington, Virginia, updated residents on the costs of new bus stops proposed along Columbia Pike, a major artery running right up to the Pentagon. As opposed to the $1 million prototype bus stop that I wrote about last year, Arlington County officials released an updated design with a new cost per stop: between $362,000 and $672,000. The three newly termed “transit centers” look similar to the “Super Stop” design but are shorter in height, have wider canopies, and have side windscreens. Each stop will have a different cost, according to its size:
The county provided a breakdown in costs for construction and site design and project management, with the latter representing approximately 23 percent of the total cost for the small- and medium-sized stations.
This all might be an improvement but taxpayers who answered a poll on the site say it’s still too high a cost:
Area residents questioned why existing bus stop designs (the classic three-sided, glass enclosures) are being replaced for a more expensive, unproven design (especially since the new design still does not protect those waiting from the elements. Others voiced concerns over the still-high costs. One commenter wrote that a standard stop costs $30,000 and some can cost as much as $58,000 across the border in Maryland. The question I ask Arlington Board members is, are the artsy designs of the stops worth spending millions of local taxpayer dollars instead of putting those funds towards other concerns or taxpayer relief?
On a county-level, the cost of the overall effort went from $20.9 million to $12.4 million, a 40 percent decrease. Yet, those savings may be swept away as the Washington Post just reported that the Columbia Pike streetcar – a major reason the county cites for updating the bus stops -- will cost $358 million, or $100 million more than the county’s previous projection. On top of all of this, taxpayers across the country need to keep any eye on this issue because 48 percent ($140.5 million) of Arlington County’s share of the expenses are expected to come from the federal government. The issue comes down to whether Arlington officials are doing what’s best for residents or just building pretty things that will ultimately go underused.1 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
"A fundamental imbalance..."
"...continuous growth in debt..."
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) uses all of these phrases to describe its most recent long-term budgetary projections, underscoring a less-than-ideal outlook for federal debt and deficits. GAO ran two simulations in its latest report: a "Baseline Extended" forecast, which uses the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) legislative assumptions, and an "Alternative Scenario" that assumes revenue and discretionary spending will grow at rates closer to historical averages. Either way, GAO predicts spending will rapidly outpace revenues in the coming years:
As the graphs above show, net interest and mandatory spending programs will continue to grow as a percentage of GDP under both models, even in the "Extended Baseline" scenario which assumes tax extenders will not be renewed and discretionary spending caps will be upheld. The report also mentions looming demographic shifts that will continue to affect the nature of federal spending for years to come: by 2029, nearly 11,000 baby boomers will reach the retirement age of 65 every single day, which means much higher spending on retirement and health benefits.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has some helpful context on the GAO's assumptions, and how their projections compare to others.1 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Sequester’s Impact: One Job Lost, $85 Billion Saved
Remember all of the doomsday predictions about last year’s compulsory spending cuts better known as the sequester? Many claimed this “draconian” measure would lead to economic catastrophe, as thousands upon thousands of federal employees would be fired and the government’s operations would come to a screeching halt. In fact, one study by Goldman Sachs predicted “declines in federal employment by around 100k over the next few quarters.”
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just released a study that sheds light on the actual impact of sequestration, which cut 2013 expenditures by $85 billion.
The total number of federal job losses that occurred: one.
Yes, you read that correctly. The report states that the U.S. Parole Commission “implemented a reduction in force of one employee to achieve partial savings required by sequestration in fiscal year 2013.” According to GAO, that was the only layoff attributable to the sequester. That means Goldman Sachs’ prediction of 100,000 layoffs missed by a mere 99,999.
That’s not to say that the sequester had no effect on the government. To be sure, furloughs occurred and certain activities were delayed or otherwise hindered. But the fact remains that the federal budget is rife with wasteful, duplicative, and unnecessary spending. There is ample room to pare back federal expenditures and force the executive branch to prioritize its functions. Indeed, that’s exactly what GAO found in its study: “congressional and agency actions mitigated some potential effects by shifting funds to higher priorities while deferring or reducing funding for lower priorities.”
GAO’s study once again demonstrates that the federal government remains far too bloated. While targeted cuts to unnecessary or duplicative programs are generally the best approach to fiscal restraint, in the absence of such leadership across-the-board reductions like the sequester can also work. These findings should give momentum to the advocates of a leaner federal budget and embarrass those who predicted the sequester would cause an economic collapse.4 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
In the newest edition of The Taxpayers Tab, National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) compared some of the alternative budget proposals put forth by several Congressional caucuses, including the Republican Study Commission (RSC), the House Republicans, the House Democrats, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). We compared the top-line budget numbers from each proposal relative to the Congressional Budget Office's baseline projections for 2014 to give taxpayers an idea of how each of these budget alternatives differ.
This first of two posts will focus on each of the GOP alternatives.
Some notable points:
While the two GOP budgets are similar in that their ultimate goals are balanced books, the RSC plan would try to achieve that within a much shorter timeframe. In both cases, emphasis is placed on cutting discretionary spending rather than any wholesale or fundamental reforms of mandatory entitlement programs.
For more, check out NTUF's full analysis in The Taxpayer's Tab.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts