Maya MacGuineas: What CBO’s Debt Projections Suggest About Congress and the Budget Process

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, wrote a commentary that appeared in the Wall Street Journal Washington Wire. It is reposted here.

It should be no surprise that the Congressional Budget Office projections published this week are as bad as they have become. More than $100 billion was added to the deficit projection for this year alone, much of it from the spending-and-tax-cuts bonanza Congress and the president went on last year. Going forward, more than $10 trillion is projected to be added to the debt by 2026.

This makes putting together a meaningful budget resolution all the more difficult. Last year Republicans passed a budget resolution that got to balance by 2024. But it was so tough to stick to that policy makers ignored many of the major components of their own budget. They failed to follow through on any major entitlement savings and ultimately passed almost $700 billion worth of taxcuts that weren’t in their budget. The same lawmakers who agreed to a budget that had $5.8 trillion in savings over 10 years added $750 billion to the debt instead.

This year they will need to find an additional $2.2 trillion in savings if they want to get to balance in 10 years. Realistically speaking, that’s just not going to happen.

Two observations: First, it would be better to focus on a more manageable goal. Balance is desirable, but 10 years is probably too short a time frame given how far off the numbers are. Picking an achievable goal greatly increases the chances of success. Stabilizing the debt so it is no longer growing faster than the economy, getting closer to historical averages, and putting the debt on a downward path would be excellent initial steps.

Second, we aren’t getting to balance by spending cuts alone. It has been demonstrated that the willpower to do so doesn’t exist among a Republican House and Senate on their own, and there isn’t bipartisan support for such cuts. To get control of the debt requires meaningful entitlement and tax reform, and the longer we pretend that isn’t the case, the more meaningless the budget process will become.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.