Jan 29, 2020 - Politics & Policy

First trillion-dollar deficit not caused by the Great Recession

Data: Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Congressional Budget Office expects the U.S. budget deficit will top $1 trillion in fiscal year 2020, the first trillion-dollar deficit in history not caused by the Great Recession.

Why it matters: The deficit is rising at a time of exceptionally low unemployment and solid economic growth, rather than during a crisis, which is typically when spending elevates.

  • Deficits are expected to remain above $1 trillion indefinitely, rising to $1.7 trillion in 2030, with the total debt held by the public rising to 98% of GDP in that time.

Details: CBO projects real economic growth of 2.2% this year and an average of 1.7% through 2030.

  • Unemployment is expected to rise to 4.4% during that time.
  • Interest rates are projected to rise above 3%.
  • Inflation is projected to remain at 2%, meaning the estimates are priced for an almost ideal backdrop.

Don't sleep: The deficits in the latest projections are $160 billion higher through 2029 than in CBO’s prior baseline, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) points out.

  • "This is the net effect of roughly $500 billion in new debt from tax cuts in December’s appropriations package, partially offset by economic and technical changes."
  • The 2020 deficit is also dramatically higher than just five years ago when the deficit totaled $442 billion.

What they're saying: "Every year we set a new post-war record for debt as a share of the economy, every year the Congressional Budget Office warns that debt is rising unsustainably, and every year our largest trust funds get closer to depleting their reserves," CRFB president Maya MacGuineas says in a statement.

  • "Ignoring what is staring us right in the face is fiscal malfeasance."

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