Today, OMB released the Mid-Session Review (MSR) which updates the Administration’s economic forecast, last done in February, and its budget projections.
The MSR shows a smaller 2009 deficit but larger out-year deficits than previously projected. Overall, it underscores the dire fiscal situation that we inherited and the need for serious steps to put our nation back on a sustainable fiscal path.
First, let’s consider this year’s deficit. We now expect that the policies put in place to repair the financial system are likely to cost taxpayers less than previously anticipated. In particular, we have decided to remove from the budget a placeholder for further financial stabilization efforts that seemed prudent earlier this year. And we have lowered our estimate of the expected costs of FDIC bank rescues.
The net result is a $262 billion improvement in the projected 2009 deficit. The 2009 deficit is now projected to be $1.58 trillion – or 11.2 percent of GDP – down from a previously projected $1.84 trillion or 12.9 percent of GDP.
Second, with regard to the out-year deficits, the changes are primarily driven by changes in our economic assumptions. In line with the current consensus among professional forecasters, the Administration’s economic projections show that we inherited a deeper recession than projected in February. These revisions are based on new data on the severity of the recession that weren’t available last winter.
As a result of a deeper-than-expected recession, certain spending programs (such as unemployment insurance and food stamps) are projected to automatically increase and revenues are projected to automatically decline, compared to our previous projection. Although these effects help to ameliorate the economic downturn by stimulating demand, they also lead to higher medium-term deficits both directly and indirectly (through higher interest costs on a higher level of public debt). Over the next 10 years, the net impact is to add $2 trillion to the projected deficit, compared to our last projection made based on February’s economic assumptions. That brings the projected 10-year deficit for 2010-2019 to $9.05 trillion – in line with CBO’s June projection.
It is worth noting, however, that by 2019, the difference between non-interest spending and revenue, which is also known as the "primary deficit," is only 0.6 percent of GDP. Interest payments, which almost entirely represent the cost of the debt accumulated due to the policies of past administrations and the need to run short-run deficits to help the economy recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, are 3.4 percent of GDP.
During an economic downturn, one wants to allow the deficit to increase, so deficit reduction should be focused on the out-years – after the economy has recovered. That said, the out-year deficits hover in the range of 4 percent of GDP, which is higher than desirable. Getting the out-year deficit under control is a top priority of the Administration.
We are in the midst of the policy process surrounding the FY 2011 budget, and that process will include proposals to put the nation back on a fiscally sustainable path. In the meantime, we have to stop making these longer-term deficits worse – which is why the Administration supports statutory pay-as-you-go legislation, so that any new tax or entitlement initiatives are fully paid for. (If pay-go rules had been followed over the past eight years, the projected deficit would be $5 trillion lower over the next decade.)
In addition to avoiding making the problem any worse, we need to address the key driver of our long-term deficits: health care costs. The federal government simply cannot be put on a fiscally sustainable path without slowing the rate of health care cost growth in the long run. That is why the Administration is insistent that health care reform not only be deficit neutral over the next ten years, but also incorporate changes that will help reduce the deficit thereafter.
There’s no doubt that additional steps will be necessary to reduce our out-year deficits (including continuing our effort to reduce spending and reform government contracting), and the Administration will have more to say about all that as part of the FY 2011 Budget.
On inauguration day, the Administration inherited the greatest economic crisis and the largest deficits since the end of World War II. The economic freefall has been arrested, and, while too many people remain out of work, the consensus among private forecasters is that the economy will return to positive growth in the second half of this year. As the economy recovers, the Administration is committed to putting the nation on a fiscally sustainable path.