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Congressional Research Service: Economic Implications of the Long-Term Federal Budget

Author: Marc Labonte
August 16, 2011

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Marc Labonte argues for reduction of the current deficit in order to reduce the country's future fiscal shortfall.

Following the financial crisis, the budget deficit reached 10% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009 and 9% of GDP in 2010, a level that cannot be sustained in the long run. Concerns about long-term fiscal sustainability depend on the projected future path of the budget, absent future policy changes. While entitlement spending made little contribution to current budget deficits, the retirement of the baby boomers, rising life expectancy, and the rising cost of medical care result in projections of large and growing budget deficits over the next several decades. Social Security outlays are projected to rise from 4.8% of GDP today to 6.1% of GDP in 2035, and federal health outlays (mainly on Medicare and Medicaid) are projected to rise from 5.6% today to as much as 10.3% of GDP in 2035. These increases in spending are not expected to subside after the baby boomers have passed away. Without any corresponding rise in revenues, this spending path would maintain unsustainably large and persistent budget deficits, which would push up interest rates and the trade deficit, crowd out private investment spending, and ultimately cause fiscal crisis.

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