What the long-term budget looks like -- down to the nitty-gritty details

Posted by Chris Adams on October 1, 2013 

The CBO's long-term debt projections.


As Congress and the Obama administration continue to wrangle over the shutdown of the government, recent data from the Congressional Budget Office show in painstaking detail the size and scope of the federal budget going out a long, long time -- as far out as 2088 in some tables.

The report, updated late last month, is the CBO's 2013 Long-Term Budget Outlook and it contains estimates of annual spending (based on current law), annual revenue and the size of the annual deficit and the growing national debt. One table shows the nation's debt, as a share of gross domestic product as far back as 1790 and as far out as 2038.

It also includes the CBO's assumptions for unemployment, GDP, interest rates and population growth (estimated U.S. population in 2088: 516 million).

The bottom line, the CBO says:

"If current laws governing taxes and spending were generally unchanged—an assumption that underlies CBO’s 10-year baseline budget projections—the deficit would continue to drop over the next few years, falling to 2 percent of GDP by 2015. As a result, by 2018, federal debt held by the public would decline to 68 percent of GDP.

"However, budget deficits would gradually rise again under current law, CBO projects, mainly because of increasing interest costs and growing spending for Social Security and the government’s major health care programs (Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and subsidies to be provided through health insurance exchanges). CBO expects interest rates to rebound in coming years from their current unusually low levels, sharply raising the government’s cost of borrowing. In addition, the pressures of an aging population, rising health care costs, and an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance would cause spending for some of the largest federal programs to increase relative to GDP. By 2023, CBO projects, the budget deficit would grow to almost 3½ percent of GDP under current law, and federal debt held by the public would equal 71 percent of GDP and would be on an upward trajectory."

The full report is available on the CBO's Web site. If you want to get into the weeds and into the CBO's long-term numbers, download the Excel workbook (the .xls file) under "Supplemental Material" on the Web site.

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