I have recently become a volunteer for the national bipartisan organization, Fix the Debt. It is the outreach arm for the Washington think tank, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which is an offshoot of the Simpson-Bowles Commission from several years ago.
As such, I give presentations to local civic organizations about our national debt and what needs to be done to get it under control. Typically the audience will readily appreciate the seriousness of our debt problem. What they want to talk about are practical ways to address it. They have their own ideas and want to know what I think as well. My first message is that we don’t have to pay off the debt or even balance the budget going forward. Realistically we need to shrink our annual deficits in order to put the debt on a downward course as a percent of our growing economy, as shown in the chart just below.
- Entitlements (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) are the biggest single problem because our population is aging so fast. Furthermore, in order to control the growth of Medicare and Medicaid, we have to do a much better job of controlling the overall cost of healthcare in the U.S. For example, even though healthcare costs slowed down to an increase of only 4.1% in 2014, this is still more than twice the rate of inflation!
- The second thing we need to do is to make our economy grow faster than the roughly 2.3% growth we have achieved since the end of the Great Recession. The main way to get this done is through broad-based (and revenue neutral) tax reform at both the individual and corporate levels, by reducing tax rates, paid for by closing loopholes and limiting deductions.
- Finally, there is enormous waste and inefficiency in the federal budget, with huge redundancy and overlap of programs between different federal departments. Responsibility for such programs as education, community development, transportation and social welfare, for example, should be returned to the states with block-grant funding to replace rigid federal control.
I have discussed each of these major reform ideas in much detail in previous blog posts and will continue to do so. As large as our fiscal problems are, I remain optimistic that they can and will be successfully addressed.