For the past half-century, federal spending has averaged about 20 percent of GDP, federal taxes about 18 percent of GDP and the budget deficit 2 percent of GDP. The CBO’s projection for 2020 — which assumes the economy has returned to “full employment” — puts spending at 26 percent of GDP, taxes at a bit less than 19 percent of GDP and a deficit above 7 percent of GDP. Future spending and deficit figures continue to grow.
[T]he major causes of the budget blowout are well-known: an aging population and rapid increases in health spending. In 2000, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — the main programs providing income and health care for those 65 and over — totaled nearly 8 percent of GDP. In 2020, CBO projects that will reach almost 12 percent of GDP. But the deeper source of our predicament is a self-indulgent political culture that avoids a rigorous discussion of government’s role.
Obama would make matters worse. He talks about controlling “entitlement” spending (mainly Social Security and Medicare) but hasn’t done so. He’s proposing just the opposite. His health-care proposal would increase federal spending. He says he will “pay for” the added outlays with tax increases or other spending cuts, but what people forget is that every penny of this “payment” could be used (and should be) to close the long-term deficit — not raise future spending and taxes.
Samuelson is dead-on. When the report first came out, we renewed our call on the President and Congress to take a fresh look at the steps to reform entitlements that The Heritage Foundation and a bi-partisan coalition of top policy experts outlined last year. Even if the President does not tackle our out-of-control entitlement spending, he should at least make sure he does not make the problem worse.