The new CBO report came out today looking at the budget and economic outlook for fiscal year 2011 and the following ten-year period through 2021. The non-partisan office estimates that the deficit will hit $1.5 trillion this year, a new record.
And with Congress looking to raise the debt limit, a new open-ended entitlement going into effect, and a defense industry that doubled in size over the last ten years, some turn their fiscal ire toward....the Bush tax cuts. Already, the Wall Street Journal has rushed in to overstate the tax cuts' effect on our current deficit problem.
But this misses the point. The total deficit for fiscal 2010 was $1.3 trillion dollars. The Bush tax cuts, if extended for ten years, would deprive the government of $700 billion in revenue, for an average of $70 billion a year. If we compare this to total projected federal spending over the 2012-2021 horizon ($46 trillion dollars), the Bush tax cuts come to1.5 percent of the entire projected budget and approximately 10% of the projected deficit ($7 trillion).
While the Bush tax cuts are surely putting a hole in the deficit -- even after accounting for any positive stimulative or supply-side effect they might be having on federal revenues -- these make up a small part of the overall picture. To view this as the main problem, rather than the lack of fiscal control on the spending side of the ledger, would be to strain the gnat and swallow the donkey. It would also put us in the odd position, often embraced by politicians, of subordinating the well-being of taxpayers to the politicians' need to pay for the extravagant schemes they cook up in Congress.