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With the fiscal cliff deal passed and with lawmakers looking to replace the sequester, the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) newest budget and economic outlook provides the clearest picture yet of our new fiscal landscape. Here are the most important things you need to know from this wonky 77 page report:
1. The Fiscal Cliff Deal will increase the deficit by $4.6 trillion.
The media often portrayed the Fiscal Cliff deal as an effort to reduce the deficit and increase revenues, yet the CBO notes that the deal actually caused the projected deficit to rise from approximately $2.3 to over $6.9 trillion over the next decade. The fiscal cliff deal included about $4 trillion in tax cuts (compared to what was then “current law”).
2. The Fiscal Deal included $54 billion in corporate tax breaks.
According the CBO, the one-year extension of accelerated depreciation and a two-year extension of the so-called “tax extenders” for businesses reduced taxes on corporations by as much as $54 billion over the next decade. The decrease in corporate tax revenues (and even larger increase in the deficit as a result) could be far higher over the next decade if lawmakers do not allow these breaks to expire, but instead choose to keep extending them every year or two.
3. The level of federal debt will remain relatively stable over the next decade if lawmakers do nothing.
Despite the continued howls for more deficit reduction, the CBO projects that under current law the level of the federal debt will remain relatively stable over the next decade, with the debt actually dropping from 76.3 percent of GDP in 2013 to 76 percent of GDP in 2022. The increase in the deficit in past years was largely driven by the Bush tax cuts, weaker revenues from the economic downturn, economy recovery measures, and spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than some unsustainable and permanent increase in government spending.
While the debt is projected to be stable over the next decade, the CBO warns this assumes that lawmakers do not step in and increase the deficit by $2.5 trillion by extending the corporate tax provisions set to expire, repealing the sequester, or by holding constant Medicare payment rates without offsetting policies.
4. Job and economic growth are still well below where they could be.
The CBO estimates that the US unemployment rate will remain at the abysmal level of 8 percent throughout 2013 and that our economy will keep producing well below its potential until as late as 2017. Lawmakers could counteract the weak economic recovery, while staying fiscally responsible, if they were to repeal spending cuts or enact new stimulus programs and then pay for them by closing tax loopholes. Increasing government spending is much more stimulative to the economy than continuing expensive tax cuts for businesses, so this would have the effect increasing economic growth while making our tax code fairer and economically efficient.