This is Douglas Elmendorf, the guy responsible for evaluating the costs of all the nonsense Congress wants to do, often forced to use the nonsense numbers it provides him and project the effects of innumerable unknowable factors many years into the future for giant programs Congress itself has no idea how it will run or enforce. It’s an unpleasant job, but he’s an admirable, no-nonsense guy with a very knowledgable perspective on the fiscal problems facing this country. Maybe Sen. McCaskill’s been listening to him.
Below, Elmendorf explains what is known as common sense and fact to conservatives but is classified as damn-near traitorous fantasy by liberals. Guys, he argues, there are two major drivers of our fiscal problems and they will shortly be eating up all our resources. Those two things are Social Security and federal health care programs— specifically an expansion thereof, which despite what we’ve been told, is not bringing spending down. If we’re going to change those programs to address these problems, it will be less painful to do it sooner rather than later. Also, debt is bad and not exactly a jobs program.
Loopy, alarmist and reeking of a desire for austerity if you’re a Republican office holder. But what about when the No. 1 numbers guy concedes the obvious about our numbers?
“So we have a choice as a society to either scale back those programs relative to what is promised under current law; or to raise tax revenue above its historical average to pay for the expansion of those programs; or to cut back on all other spending even more sharply than we already are,” Elmendorf said.
“And we haven’t actually decided as a society…what we’re going to do. But some combination of those three choices will be needed.”
Elmendorf said there are various ways to proceed: “But they tend to be unpleasant in one way or another, and we have not, as a society, decided how much of that sort of unpleasantness to inflict on whom.” …
Elmendorf said the nation’s main fiscal challenge is not short-term deficits, but “the very high level of debt” over the long term:
“And a high level of debt will ultimately crowd out capital investment and slow accumulation of capital and slow the growth of wages and incomes. It also reduces the flexibility for policymakers to respond to future crises that arise.
“So it’s the high level of debt and the growing deficits in the long-term. The reason why action today would be beneficial is because if you — we want to make changes in programs for retirees or changes in the tax code, it’s better to make those with a warning. One wants to set — one wants to make changes. One wants to set them in motion early, even if their full effect won’t be felt for many years.”
An old profile of intrepid, upstanding nerd, Elmendorf is here.