At Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad’s request, CBO just issued an analysis of the long-term budget outlook under deficit-financed tax cuts–answering the following: What happens to budget deficits and the economy over the longer run (or even over the not-so-long run) if we go along with repeated violations/waivers of PAYGO as has been insisted on by the Bush Administration and many members of Congress (most recently, the Senate Republicans in the report I cited yesterday)?
Check out Table 1 on page 3 of the report. Under current law (with expiring tax cuts OR with extended tax cuts that comply with PAYGO), the deficit as a share of the economy (GDP) would actually fall from 1.2% in 2007 to 1.0% in 2030, but would then start to grow (even with expired tax cuts) to 4.6% by 2050, and to 18.1% by 2082. (The dramatic rise of the deficit in later years, despite revenues as a share of GDP growing from 18.8% in 2007 to 25.5% by 2082, shows that the longer-term problem is much more from rising health care costs than from deficient revenue.) But under the scenario where extension of the Bush tax cuts and AMT relief is entirely deficit financed, deficits/GDP rise to 6.1% in 2030 (more than 6 times the 1.0% when paid for), 15.0% in 2050 (more than 3 times the 4.6% when paid for), and 39.3% by 2082 (more than 2 times the 18.1% when paid for). (Note the difference shrinks over time when health costs become the far largest challenge.)
What difference do these deficits make for the economy? CBO Director Peter Orszag lifts a couple paragraphs from the analysis onto his blog:
…simulations using one model—a textbook growth model that incorporates the assumption that deficits affect capital investment in the future as they have in the past—indicate that the rising federal budget deficits created by deficit financing of the indexation of the AMT would reduce real GNP per person by 6 percent in 2050 and by about 37 percent in 2080. If both the AMT were indexed and EGTRRA’s and JGTRRA’s personal income tax provisions were extended, and those changes were financed by additional borrowing, the economic costs would be even larger. By CBO’s estimates, real GNP per person would decline by 13 percent in 2050. Beyond 2073, projected deficits under those tax policies would become so large and unsustainable that the model cannot calculate their effects.
Despite the substantial economic costs generated by deficits in that model, such estimates may significantly understate the potential loss to economic growth under deficit financing of the tax changes…
Just as with CBO’s earlier analysis at Congressman Ryan’s request (my commentary on that posted here), the analysis focuses on the macroeconomic effects of budget deficits, rather than the potential microeconomic effects of the particular tax or spending policies on household or firm behavior. In this particular analysis of deficit-financed vs. paid-for tax cuts, Peter Orszag explains that the microeconomic, incentive effects are the same under both scenarios for the tax cut in question…
To assess the economic effects, CBO compared a scenario with the tax changes financed through deficits with an alternative scenario in which the tax changes were financed fully from the start via changes in other policies. Because the analysis assumes that the tax changes are enacted in either case, the difference between the two scenarios highlights the effects of using deficits to finance them.
…although it should be pointed out that the microeconomic, incentive effects of the mix of policies used to pay for the tax cuts in the paygo-compliant (extended baseline) case are not simulated, just as in the CBO analysis for Congressman Ryan, the potential micro-behavioral effects from the drop in health care spending were not simulated.