Saturday, February 9, 2013

Real Budgeting is Still Better

As promised, I've updated my "real" budget projections on the basis of the CBO forecast that was just released (more observations from the CBO report coming up soon).  A quick summary of the assumptions and findings follows below.

Critical Assumptions

  • Spending for each budget category grows at the relevant rate of growth of inflation and population.  Thus, Medicare spending grows at the rate of medical inflation (3.2% over the last 5 years) and the over 65 population (each year as projected by the Census)
  • Tax receipts are as assumed in the CBO forecast
  • Interest expense is calculated based on public debt and effective interest rate calculated from the CBO projections
  • OCO spending assumed to decline to $50 billion and remain there
  • Disaster spending rebased to $20 billion in 2013 and beyond
  • Discretionary spending, Medicare, and Medicaid assumed to become 10% more efficient over the decade
  • UI spending rebased to full employment economy per the numbers in the CBO forecast
The net effect of this is that all major class of spending grow, albeit most grow more slowly than in the CBO baseline forecast.  Medicare for example, grows at 5.3% per annum on average (including efficiency effect).  Defense (including OCO spending) grows at 0.4% per annum but continues to grow in nominal terms.

Meanwhile, revenue is projected to grow at 6.2% per annum.  The combination of these results in a rapid and continued reduction in deficit spending versus the CBO baseline.  I summarize the results in the two charts below.  First, we'll look at deficit to GDP ratios.

The basic change here comes in the medium and long term.  In the CBO forecast, the deficit picture deteriorates dramatically in the latter half of the forecast.  In the "real" baselines, the deficit picture continues to improve to 2023 ending the period nearly 300 basis points better as a percentage of GDP.
Not surprisingly, the debt picture is similar.  Instead of improving and then getting worse as in the CBO forecasts, the "real" budget picture continues to improve over the entire course of the forecast.  So the learning here remains.  A more restrained view of the growth of federal spending can dramatically improve the budget picture without making any major changes to the revenue side of the equation.

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