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The U.S. Fiscal Problem: Where We are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going

In: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1994, Volume 9

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  • Alan J. Auerbach

Abstract

This paper deals with several issues regarding the causes and implications of recent and projected U.S. federal budget deficits. It considers why deficits have remained so large in spite of deficit reduction efforts, evaluates the impact of the recent policies of the Clinton administration, and offers long-range deficit projections. Among the paper's findings are: 1. Until the past year, deficit projections over the past decade have been consistently too optimistic; had initial projections for the current fiscal year proved accurate, the deficit-reducing policies of the early 1990s already would have driven the federal budget well into surplus; there is no single explanation for these large and systematic forecasting errors. 2. The budget rules that legislators have developed to control deficits, including those now in effect, are ill-designed for their apparent purpose. They fail to compensate for forecasting errors and encourage shifts in the timing of revenues and expenditures. The paper presents evidence that such shifting has followed the incentives of the different schemes. 3. The projected decline in the deficit as a share of GDP over the next few years reflects not only the policies already enacted but also the continuation of significant real reductions in discretionary spending -- representing a drop of 2.2 percent of GDP between 1994 and 2004. 4. Even if such optimistic forecasts prove to be correct, longer run projections suggest that current fiscal policy is unsustainable. Without any growth in the relative price of health care, the

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This chapter was published in:

  • Stanley Fischer & Julio J. Rotemberg, 1994. "NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1994, Volume 9," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number fisc94-1.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 11009.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:11009

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    1. Gramlich, Edward M, 1990. "U.S. Federal Budget Deficits and Gramm-Rudman-Hollings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 75-80, May.
    2. James D. Hamilton & Marjorie A. Flavin, 1985. "On the Limitations of Government Borrowing: A Framework for Empirical Testing," NBER Working Papers 1632, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Feenberg, D.R. & Poterba, J.M., 1992. "Income Inequality and the Incomes of Very High Income Taxpayers: Evidence from Tax Returns," Working papers 92-16, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
    4. Jane G. Gravelle, 1993. "Estimating Long-Run Revenue Effects of Tax Law Changes," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 19(4), pages 481-494, Fall.
    5. Barro, Robert J., 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Scholarly Articles 3451400, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    6. Alan J. Auerbach & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1991. "Generational accounts: a meaningful alternative to deficit accounting," Working Paper 9103, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
    7. White, Halbert, 1980. "A Heteroskedasticity-Consistent Covariance Matrix Estimator and a Direct Test for Heteroskedasticity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(4), pages 817-38, May.
    8. Reischauer, Robert D., 1990. "Taxes and Spending Under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 43(3), pages 223-32, September.
    9. Chari, V V & Christiano, Lawrence J & Kehoe, Patrick J, 1994. "Optimal Fiscal Policy in a Business Cycle Model," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(4), pages 617-52, August.
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    Cited by:
    1. John Janssen, 2001. "New Zealand's Fiscal Policy Framework: Experience and Evolution," Treasury Working Paper Series 01/25, New Zealand Treasury.
    2. Sorensen, Bent E. & Wu, Lisa & Yosha, Oved, 2001. "Output fluctuations and fiscal policy: U.S. state and local governments 1978-1994," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 45(7), pages 1271-1310.
    3. Alberto Alesina, 2000. "The Political Economy of the Budget Surplus in the United States," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 3-19, Summer.
    4. Dharmapala, Dhammika, 2006. "The Congressional budget process, aggregate spending, and statutory budget rules," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(1-2), pages 119-141, January.
    5. John Stephenson & Grant Scobie, 2002. "The Economics of Population Ageing," Treasury Working Paper Series 02/04, New Zealand Treasury.
    6. Ralph Rotte & Klaus Zimmermann, 1998. "Fiscal restraint and the political economy of EMU," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 94(3), pages 385-406, March.
    7. J. Bradford De Long, . "Keynesianism, Pennsylvania-Avenue Style: Some Economic Consequences of the 1946 Employment Act," J. Bradford De Long's Working Papers _105, University of California at Berkeley, Economics Department.

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