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

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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

Suggested Citation

  • Alan J. Auerbach, 1994. "The U.S. Fiscal Problem: Where We Are, How We Got Here and Where We're Going," NBER Working Papers 4709, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4709
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Alan J. Auerbach & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1991. "Generational Accounts: A Meaningful Alternative to Deficit Accounting," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 5, pages 55-110 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. 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 617-652, August.
    3. Reischauer, Robert D., 1990. "Taxes and Spending Under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 43(3), pages 223-32, September.
    4. Reischauer, Robert D., 1990. "Taxes and Spending Under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 43(3), pages 223-232, September.
    5. Daniel R. Feenberg & James M. Poterba, 1993. "Income Inequality and the Incomes of Very High-Income Taxpayers: Evidence from Tax Returns," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 7, pages 145-177 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-971, October.
    7. 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.
    8. Hamilton, James D & Flavin, Marjorie A, 1986. "On the Limitations of Government Borrowing: A Framework for EmpiricalTesting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 808-819, September.
    9. White, Halbert, 1980. "A Heteroskedasticity-Consistent Covariance Matrix Estimator and a Direct Test for Heteroskedasticity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(4), pages 817-838, May.
    10. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Sergey Sinelnikov-Murylev & Eugene Goryunov & Laurence Kotlikoff, 2015. "Theoretical foundations of fiscal gap as a long-term fiscal sustainability indicator and its estimates for Russia," Research Paper Series, Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, issue 168P, pages 1-58.
    3. Rotte, Ralph & Zimmermann, Klaus F, 1998. "Fiscal Restraint and the Political Economy of EMU," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 94(3-4), pages 385-406, March.
    4. Bohn, Henning & Inman, Robert P., 1996. "Balanced-budget rules and public deficits: evidence from the U.S. states," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 13-76, December.
    5. John Stephenson & Grant Scobie, 2002. "The Economics of Population Ageing," Treasury Working Paper Series 02/04, New Zealand Treasury.
    6. -, 2003. "Budget reform in OECD member countries: common trends," Sede de la CEPAL en Santiago (Estudios e Investigaciones) 34911, Naciones Unidas Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL).
    7. repec:eee:rujoec:v:1:y:2015:i:3:p:240-256 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Bodrova, Vera & Gvozdeva, Margarita & Kazakova, Maria, 2015. "Methods of Long-term Forecasting: Comparative Analysis and Foreign Experience of Applying," Published Papers 2310, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
    9. 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.
    10. Kazakova, Maria & Trunin, Pavel, 2015. "Long-Term Prognosis of Basic Demographic and Macroeconomic Indicators in Russia," Published Papers 2308, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
    11. John Janssen, 2001. "New Zealand's Fiscal Policy Framework: Experience and Evolution," Treasury Working Paper Series 01/25, New Zealand Treasury.
    12. 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.
    13. J. Bradford De Long, "undated". "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.
    14. Kazakova, Maria & Nesterova, Kristina, 2015. "Long-Term Forecast of the Main Parameters of the Budgetary System of Russia," Published Papers 2309, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E65 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Studies of Particular Policy Episodes
    • H62 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Deficit; Surplus

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