U.S. Budget Watch is a historical project of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which provided analysis around the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. This site is not regularly updated.


The Cost of "Current Policy"

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The CBO recently projected a ten-year deficit of $7.1 trillion using a "current law" baseline. But these numbers may prove to be optimistic. CRFB argues that  four major assumptions in the baseline are unlikely to materialize, leading to a ten-year deficit of $12.6 trillion. This paper discusses US Budget Watch's own "current policy" baseline, which assumes particular policies do not conform to current law.

Analysis of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

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Today, the President signed the stimulus bill into law. The fiscal stimulus includes $501 billion in increased spending and $286 billion in tax cuts at a total estimated cost of $787 billion. The paper discusses the elements and likely impacts of the stimulus.


Promises Promises: A Fiscal Voter Guide to the 2008 Election

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The United States faces serious fiscal challenges. Large budget deficits have returned, and shifting demographics along with growing health care costs are putting intense pressure on the long-term federal budget outlook. Over time, sustained deficits will weaken the economy and adversely affect the American standard of living.

The two major political parties' presidential candidates are campaigning on a lengthy list of policy initiatives, most of which would have significant impact on the federal budget. While not all of these proposals will become law, they do reflect the candidates' values and priorities, and the policies each candidate is likely to pursue once in office. In addition to these new initiatives, a number of outstanding tax and budget issues exist that will need to be addressed, such as which of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts should be made permanent, how to fix the Alternative Minimum Tax, what to do about growing entitlement spending, how to control health care cost growth, and how to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The next president will face difficult fiscal challenges. It is therefore critical that voters understand the potential budgetary impacts of the candidates' plans.

US Budget Watch's report, Promises, Promises: A Fiscal Voter Guide to the 2008 Election--with an updated (10/31) section on the candidateswill help voters find their way through the thicket of policy proposals put forward by the likely Republican candidate for president, Senator John McCain, and the likely Democratic candidate for president, Senator Barack Obama. It presents a capsule summary of the candidates' major policy proposals and includes an estimate of the likely fiscal impact of each proposal. The guide is not intended to express a view for or against either candidate or any specific policy proposal. This report will be followed by other more detailed reports on the candidates' tax and spending proposals.

Guide to Tax Policy: The 2008 Presidential Election

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The next president have to address fiscal imbalances within the government and a dramatically rising federal debt. National debt has been on a more or less steady rise since 1974 when, after a steady decline from the massive debt accumulated during WWII, it hit a low of 33.6 percent of GDP. Total national debt was more than $10 trillion at the start of fiscal year 2009.

This rising debt is driven by entitlement growth, resulting from demographic changes and rapidly rising healthcare costs. An aging population, especially in light of the retirement of the Boomers, is projected to increase Social Security payments from 4.3 percent of GDP today to 6 percent in 2030. More significantly, Medicare and Medicaid are expected to grow from just over 4 percent today, to 18.5 percent of GDP by 2082. This level will exceed the average level of federal revenues over the past 50 years. Even under the most optimistic economic growth assumptions, revenues will not come close to keeping up with this spending growth.

Guide to Tax Policy: The 2008 Presidential Election aims to make voters aware of how the candidates' tax proposals will affect the country's fiscal standing. The report gives a current overview of federal taxes and spending, reviews the challenges posed by future revenue imbalances, and details how McCain's and Obama's proposals might alter tax revenues. The guide is not intended to express a view for or against either candidate or any specific policy proposal.

Twelve Principles for Fiscal Responsibility

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The United States faces a number of serious fiscal challenges. Budget deficits are back, the economy has weakened, Social Security is unsound, growing health care spending is putting immense pressure on the budget, tax policy is at a major crossroads, and borrowing is projected to reach unsustainable levels. Politicians will have to take concrete steps to confront these challenges, and some level of sacrifice will be required. The sooner decisions are made, the better—both because it will give the public more time to adjust and because it will allow us to spread the sacrifices more broadly.

The presidential campaign can either be helpful in this process, by allowing politicians to develop a mandate for change, or damaging, if politicians merely use the election as an opportunity to promise new tax and spending initiatives that would make the situation worse instead of better. It is not surprising that politicians tend to prefer to propose costly new initiatives given that proposals to increase taxes or cut spending are rarely met with appreciation by voters and are almost always met with attacks from political opponents. But considering our current fiscal situation, it is critical that policymakers be willing to address the country’s budgetary imbalances. It will require real leadership to do so.

To help move the political discussion forward, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has put forth "Twelve Principles for Fiscal Responsibility." These principles will help voters ask the necessary questions and develop a better understanding of important fiscal issues, and they will help politicians speak directly to these looming problems in a manner that will prepare the country for the necessary changes ahead. Unless the next president and Congress take action to put our fiscal house in order, they will put the budget, the economy, and the well-being of future generations at risk.

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