On January 7, 200--two weeks before Barack Obama took the oath of office--the Congressional Budget Office forecast the federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2009 at $1.2 trillion. Now, the CBO is projecting the deficit will be only $642 billion for FY 2013, $200 billion less than the nonpartisan budget scorekeeper estimated as recently as February.
For policymakers in Washington, the implications couldn't be clearer. For starters, the counterproductive Beltway fixation on immediate debt reduction, which economists have warned is slowing U.S. economic growth and costing millions of jobs, should be jettisoned ASAP. And to be sure, the Republicans' next round of debt ceiling hostage-taking should be condemned as the economic sabotage it is.
The CBO explained why the U.S. fiscal picture is improving so dramatically:
If the current laws that govern federal taxes and spending do not change, the budget deficit will shrink this year to $642 billion, CBO estimates, the smallest shortfall since 2008. Relative to the size of the economy, the deficit this year--at 4.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)--will be less than half as large as the shortfall in 2009, which was 10.1 percent of GDP...
CBO's estimate of the deficit for this year is about $200 billion below the estimate that it produced in February 2013, mostly as a result of higher-than-expected revenues and an increase in payments to the Treasury by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. For the 2014-2023 period, CBO now projects a cumulative deficit that is $618 billion less than it projected in February. That reduction results mostly from lower projections of spending for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the public debt.
By 2015, the annual deficit is now projected to just 2.1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, well below the 40-year historical average of 3.1 percent. The gap is expected to grow to 3.5 percent by 2023, "because of the pressures of an aging population, rising health care costs, an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance, and growing interest payments on federal debt."
The new CBO numbers are just the latest confirmation of House Speaker John Boehner's admission that "we have no immediate debt crisis." Coming on the heels of an analysis by the Hamilton Project estimating that austerity at the federal, state and local level has cost up to 2.2 million American jobs, the CBO report should help put to lie that more budget cutting is needed in Washington. As the New York Times explained just last week:
The nation's unemployment rate would probably be nearly a point lower, roughly 6.5 percent, and economic growth almost two points higher this year if Washington had not cut spending and raised taxes as it has since 2011, according to private-sector and government economists.