Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Good fiscal news in U.S. has downside

  • Print

 Good news from the fiscal front: The federal deficit is shrinking faster than expected. During the first half of fiscal 2013, revenues have come in greater than forecast, and spending, less; Goldman Sachs expects the total deficit to equal 4.8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), rather than 5.6 per cent as the investment bank once believed. Also, Goldman says the deficit will decline to 2.7 per cent of GDP by fiscal 2015, as opposed to 2.8 per cent, as previously estimated.

These numbers reflect the tax rate increases and spending restraints imposed by Congress and President Barack Obama over the last two years, as well as the economy’s continuing modest growth. The recovery is generating jobs and corporate profits, albeit at a less-than-desirable rate, which translates into lower outlays for unemployment insurance and higher tax receipts. And though declining deficits may create "fiscal drag" on growth, Goldman sees that effect diminishing after next month.

Now the not-so-good news. The improved medium-term fiscal outlook reflects several factors that can’t be counted on to persist: a poorly understood deceleration in health-care spending, for example, and Fannie Mae’s delivery to the Treasury of $59.4 billion due to unusually large first quarter profits. Indeed, to the extent the government’s improved financial outlook relies on the future profits of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it is unhealthy, since that may reduce Congress’ incentive to revamp those entities.

Alas, there’s a chance that Congress and the president will take the declining short-term deficit as an excuse to delay action on the long-term one. Absent a crisis, they are less likely to undertake the politically difficult reforms, especially to entitlement programs, without which the United States cannot stabilize its long-term finances.

And the latest numbers confirm that those reforms remain necessary: Notably, spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have all risen more than projected so far this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, notwithstanding the slower health-care growth rate. Despite its short-term optimism, Goldman left its long-term deficit estimates unchanged, citing uncontrolled entitlement growth, combined with an inevitable rise in interest rates.

There’s another argument against budgetary complacency: the policy priorities embodied in current law. Some of those policies, such as massive crop-insurance subsidies to farmers, would be impossible to justify even if debt were not a problem. And, of course, the sequester’s across the board cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary spending represent the abdication of policy choice.

Taken together, current law entails a massive shift of resources into health and retirement entitlements, and out of national defense and discretionary spending — everything from federal law enforcement to Head Start. To continue on this course is to short-change both younger generations and the core responsibilities of national government.

 

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

City Beautiful trailer: How architecture shaped Winnipeg's DNA

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A young gosling prepares to eat dandelions on King Edward St Thursday morning-See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 17- bonus - May 24, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  070527 The 21st Annual Teddy Bears' Picnic at Assiniboine Park. The Orlan Ukrainian Dancers perform on stage.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Will you get out and vote for a new mayor and council?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google