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Federal budget outlook is improving

dollar bills spelling USA

The economy is steadily improving, and now we’re seeing improvement with the US budget deficit.

In February, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that this year’s deficit would fall to $845 billion, down from nearly $1.1 trillion in 2012. Goldman Sachs recently predicted that the deficit would fall even further, to $775 billion, and return to sustainable levels within two years.

As a result, the national debt is rising far more slowly than in the frantic days after the 2008 economic crisis: The Treasury Department actually expects to repay a tiny sliver of the $16.8 trillion national debt by the end of June.

Much of the improvement stems from recent budget deals. Over the past two years, Congress has capped agency spending and created the sequester, which is trimming outlays on domestic programs and the military. Lawmakers also agreed to raise taxes on virtually every American this year, letting a temporary reduction in the payroll tax expire and tax rates rise for households earning more than $450,000 a year.

But other factors are at work, too. Defense spending has been declining rapidly with the end of the war in Iraq and the ongoing drawdown of forces in Afghanistan. A surprising — and apparently durable — slowdown in health-care costs has sharply reduced projected spending on Medicare and Medicaid. And the falling jobless rate and improving economy have helped push federal tax collections up 16 percent over last year, according to figures out Tuesday.

This will have interesting implications for budget talks, but also should start instilling some confidence with business leaders, which hopefully then fuels even more economic growth.

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