The basic story is familiar. Low revenues coupled with rising outlays on health-related programs and Social Security drive permanent, rising primary deficits as a share of the economy. Net interest payments also rise substantially relative to GDP due to high pre-existing debt, rising primary deficits, and gradually increasing interest rates. Unified deficits and public debt rise accordingly.
Under current law for the next 10 years, the CBO’s projections imply that persistent primary deficits will average 3.0% of GDP. Net interest payments will rise from 2.4% of GDP currently to 3.6% in 2033, an all-time high. The unified deficit, and even the cyclically adjusted deficit, will exceed 7% of GDP at the end of decade. Debt will rise from 98% of GDP currently to 118% by 2033, another all-time high.
Over the following two decades, the projected trends are even less auspicious. Primary deficits rise further as spending on Social Security and health-related programs continue to grow faster than GDP and revenue growth remains anemic. The average nominal interest rate on government debt rises to exceed the nominal economic growth rate by 2046, setting off the possibility of explosive debt dynamics. By 2053, relative to GDP, annual net interest payments exceed 7%, the unified deficit exceeds 11%, and the public debt stands at 195%. All these figures would be all-time highs (except for deficits during World War II and in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic) and would continue to grow after 2053.
Tardy federal budgets are nothing new in Washington. According to the Tax Policy Center, Congress has only completed the budgetary process in a timely fashion, which requires passing all 12 appropriations bills prior to October 1, four times since fiscal year (FY) 1977. The last time Congress’ budgetary process worked as expected was FY 1997, more than two decades ago.
When the budget does not pass on time, Congress must pass a continuing resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown. Since continuing resolutions typically maintain departmental funding at prior-year levels, they do not signal the policy choices ultimately made in the budget process. As a result, federal managers must begin the fiscal year without a clear direction as to whether they should be increasing or decreasing staff and non-employee operational expenditures. If a federal agency or department ultimately receives a significant funding increase or funding cut in the final appropriations bill, managers may have insufficient time to respond efficiently.
While federal budgeting has been broken for some time, the situation in 2022 is especially bad. Over five months into the budgetary year, the House Rules Committee produced a 2,741-page omnibus budget bill in the wee hours of March 9, just hours before the bill’s scheduled vote on the House floor.
Congressional showdowns over the debt limit are nothing new, but this time around there’s a unique wrinkle. The House approved a bill on Tuesday night with what was essentially a party-line vote that paves the way for Congress to avoid a possible default on the national debt in the coming weeks. Here’s the tricky part: “The measure would create a special pathway—to be used only once, before mid-January—for the Senate to raise the debt limit by a specific amount with a simple majority vote, allowing Democrats to steer clear of a filibuster or other procedural hurdles so that Republicans would have no means to block it,” The New York Times reports.
The upshot, assuming this deal holds up long enough to avert the December 15 deadline for raising the debt limit, is that there won’t be another showdown like this before the midterm elections next November.
House Democrats continue to search for a way to satisfy lawmakers who want to scrap the deduction limit on state and local taxes without losing progressives wary of a tax cut that would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy.
The budget blueprint Democrats passed this summer instructs lawmakers to include some form of SALT cap relief in a tax-and-spend plan of up to $3.5 trillion.
A full repeal would be costly and politically difficult to pass with razor-thin margins in both chambers. But a coalition of lawmakers from New York, New Jersey, and other states with high tax rates continue to insist that is what it will take for them to back the legislation.
Suozzi is one of the leaders of the “SALT Caucus”, an alliance of more than 30 lawmakers who want to roll back the $10,000 deduction limit established in the Republican-led 2017 tax law. While they argue that the cap unfairly targets Democrat-dominated states and encourages people to move to Florida and other low-tax states, progressives counter that expanding the deduction shouldn’t be a priority in a social spending bill because the lion’s share of the benefit would go to the wealthy.
That  bill passed the House, but 16 Democrats voted against it, including New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has described a full repeal as a “gift to billionaires.” Democratic leadership is dealing with a much narrower majority this Congress and can’t afford to lose that many votes with no Republicans expected to support the reconciliation package.
When it comes down to it, I’ll suggest to readers that they don’t really believe that it matters. And with the Biden administration’s 2022 budget proposal comes a fairly strong indication that this is their point of view as well, that they expect, when the Trust Fund well comes dry, to simply tap general federal revenues for the necessary funds, in exactly the same manner as is done for Parts B (doctors) and D (drugs).
This single sentence makes it clear that’s not the case: the only premiums paid by Medicare recipients are partial-cost payments for Parts B and D. For Part B, this is 25% of the cost for most retirees; for those with income above $85,000/$170,000 single/married, premiums are higher, reaching as much as 85% of the total cost for the highest earners. For Part D, the premium is set to cover 25.5% of the standard drug benefit, plus any extra costs charged by particular private providers for enhanced benefit levels, and an extra flat charge for higher earners. The remaining cost, 75% of Part B and 74.5% of Part D, is funded by the federal government through its general revenues.
One of the biggest boosts in spending is for education. The proposed $29.8 billion would be a 41% increase from 2021. The extra funds would support students in high-poverty schools, as well as children with disabilities.
Health and human services is also a top priority in Biden’s budget, perhaps unsurprisingly given the global pandemic. But the boost in funds extends beyond disease control. Biden’s budget allocates $1.6 billion towards mental health grants and $10.7 billion to help stop the opioid crisis.
There are increases across all major budget categories, but defense will see the smallest increase from 2021 spending, at 2%. It’s worth noting that defense is also the biggest budget category by far, and with a total of $715 billion allocated, the budget lists deterring threats from China and Russia as a major goal.
The government deducts tax and other revenues from net cost (with some adjustments) to derive its FY 2020 “bottom line” net operating cost of $3.8 trillion. o From Chart 4, total government tax and other revenues decreased slightly by $49.4 billion (1.4 percent) to about $3.6 trillion for FY 2020. This net decrease was due primarily to a $51.6 billion decrease in individual tax revenue, compared with an offsetting decrease and increase in corporate and other tax revenue, respectively. o Together, individual income tax and tax withholdings, and corporate taxes accounted for about 88.8 percent of total tax and other revenues in FY 2020. Other revenues include Federal Reserve earnings, excise taxes, and customs duties.
Aid to states and cities. Cost: $350 billion. This money would offset lost tax revenue and help mayors and governors “mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the public health emergency,” according to draft legislation. it’s clearly related to the pandemic, so it counts as relief, but it might also be more than states and cities need, since government revenue has held up better than expected during the last 12 months.
Pension relief. Cost: $74 billion. This money would address longstanding problems at roughly 1,400 underfunded pensions covering 10 million workers and retirees, most of them belonging to unions. A government agency called the PBGC is supposed to backstop pensions that run short of money, but it, too, is drastically underfunded and poised to collapse in coming years. The money in the House bill would bail out the riskiest pensions, but it’s controversial because it’s not paired with needed reforms—and it’s not specifically related to problems caused by the pandemic. This could be one provision that doesn’t survive the Senate.
The House Budget Committee approved on Monday a $1.92 trillion bill to carry out President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan, the first step toward likely House passage by the end of the week.
The vote was 19-16. Texas Democrat Rep. Lloyd Doggett voted with Republicans in opposition to the bill but a spokeswoman for him later said he had cast his vote in error and supported the legislation.
Aid to state, local and tribal governments: This would provide money for states and local governments, as well as tribal governments, to offset tax-collection losses and increased spending resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Price tag: $350 billion.
Multiemployer pension plan aid: The Pension Benefit Guaranty Program would be able to give grants to underfunded pension plans guaranteed by the PBGC. The PBGC revolving fund to help pay full benefits when pensions fall short is set to be exhausted in 2027 under current law. Price tag: $81.5 billion.
The Budget Control Act of 1974 is the most misnamed congressional act in American history. Far from “controlling” anything, its passage caused the federal budget process to spin out of control. In the six years preceding the act, with the Vietnam War raging, annual deficits averaged $11.3 billion. In the first six years after the Budget Control Act, with the war over, they averaged $54 billion.
What happened? The Budget Control Act cut the president out of the budget process by removing his political leverage, leaving Congress in near-total control of the budget. Congressmen have a strong incentive to bring home the bacon, both to their voters and, increasingly, to their donors. Logrolling—you vote for my project and I’ll vote for yours—is, all too often, how Congress works.
Before 1920, there was no unified budget process. Executive departments simply submitted their budget requests directly to Congress. What kept spending under control was a strong political consensus across both parties that the budget should be balanced if at all possible. That idea only began to erode in the 1960s, with a misuse of Keynesian theory.