Testimony on the Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024
Testimony by Douglas W. Elmendorf, Director, before the Committee on the Budget, United States Senate.
This statement summarizes CBO's economic forecast and baseline budget projections for the years 2014 to 2024. Those estimates were released in the report titled The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024 (February 2014).
The federal budget deficit has fallen sharply during the past few years, and it is on a path to decline further this year and next year. CBO estimates that under current law, the deficit will total $514 billion in fiscal year 2014, compared with $1.4 trillion in 2009. At that level, this year’s deficit would equal 3.0 percent of the nation’s economic output, or gross domestic product (GDP)—close to the average percentage of GDP seen during the past 40 years.
As it does regularly, CBO has prepared baseline projections of what federal spending, revenues, and deficits would look like over the next 10 years if current laws governing federal taxes and spending generally remained unchanged. Under that assumption, the deficit is projected to decrease again in 2015—to $478 billion, or 2.6 percent of GDP. After that, however, deficits are projected to start rising—both in dollar terms and relative to the size of the economy—because revenues are expected to grow at roughly the same pace as GDP whereas spending is expected to grow more rapidly than GDP. In CBO’s baseline, spending is boosted by the aging of the population, the expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance, rising health care costs per beneficiary, and mounting interest costs on federal debt. By contrast, all federal spending apart from outlays for Social Security, major health care programs, and net interest payments is projected to drop to its lowest percentage of GDP since 1940 (the earliest year for which comparable data have been reported).
The large budget deficits recorded in recent years have substantially increased federal debt, and the amount of debt relative to the size of the economy is now very high by historical standards. CBO estimates that federal debt held by the public will equal 74 percent of GDP at the end of this year and 79 percent in 2024 (the end of the current 10-year projection period). Such large and growing federal debt could have serious negative consequences, including restraining economic growth in the long term, giving policymakers less flexibility to respond to unexpected challenges, and eventually increasing the risk of a fiscal crisis (in which investors would demand high interest rates to buy the government’s debt).
After a frustratingly slow recovery from the severe recession of 2007 to 2009, the economy will grow at a solid pace in 2014 and for the next few years, CBO projects. Real GDP (output adjusted to remove the effects of inflation) is expected to increase by roughly 3 percent between the fourth quarter of 2013 and the fourth quarter of 2014—the largest rise in nearly a decade. Similar annual growth rates are projected through 2017. Nevertheless, CBO estimates that the economy will continue to have considerable unused labor and capital resources (or “slack”) for the next few years. Although the unemployment rate is expected to decline, CBO projects that it will remain above 6.0 percent until late 2016. Moreover, the rate of participation in the labor force—which has been pushed down by the unusually large number of people who have decided not to look for work because of a lack of job opportunities—is projected to move only slowly back toward what it would be without the cyclical weakness in the economy.
Beyond 2017, CBO expects that economic growth will diminish to a pace that is well below the average seen over the past several decades. That projected slowdown mainly reflects long-term trends—particularly, slower growth in the labor force because of the aging of the population. Inflation, as measured by the change in the price index for personal consumption expenditures (PCE), will remain at or below 2.0 percent throughout the next decade, CBO anticipates. Interest rates on Treasury securities, which have been exceptionally low since the recession, are projected to increase in the next few years as the economy strengthens and to end up at levels that are close to their historical averages (adjusted for inflation).