The United States faces serious fiscal challenges. Large budget deficits have returned, and shifting demographics along with growing health care costs are putting intense pressure on the long-term federal budget outlook. Over time, sustained deficits will weaken the economy and adversely affect the American standard of living.
The two major political parties' presidential candidates are campaigning on a lengthy list of policy initiatives, most of which would have significant impact on the federal budget. While not all of these proposals will become law, they do reflect the candidates' values and priorities, and the policies each candidate is likely to pursue once in office. In addition to these new initiatives, a number of outstanding tax and budget issues exist that will need to be addressed, such as which of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts should be made permanent, how to fix the Alternative Minimum Tax, what to do about growing entitlement spending, how to control health care cost growth, and how to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The next president will face difficult fiscal challenges. It is therefore critical that voters understand the potential budgetary impacts of the candidates' plans.
US Budget Watch's report, Promises, Promises: A Fiscal Voter Guide to the 2008 Election--with an updated (10/31) section on the candidateswill help voters find their way through the thicket of policy proposals put forward by the likely Republican candidate for president, Senator John McCain, and the likely Democratic candidate for president, Senator Barack Obama. It presents a capsule summary of the candidates' major policy proposals and includes an estimate of the likely fiscal impact of each proposal. The guide is not intended to express a view for or against either candidate or any specific policy proposal. This report will be followed by other more detailed reports on the candidates' tax and spending proposals.
One of the most pressing issues facing policymakers in the United State is rising health care costs. Cost growth is putting ongoing stress on the budgets of families, employers, and governments. The U.S. already spends $2.2 trillion a year - 16 percent of GDP - for health care. Nearly a third of this comes from the federal government.
As health care costs grow, there will be considerable pressure on the federal government's budget. Together, Medicare and Medicaid are expected to rise from 4.2 percent of GDP today to 8.1 percent in 2030 and 18.5 percent in 2082. Yet despite the amount the federal government spends on health care, there are nearly 46 million Americans without insurance and rising costs threaten to grow the rolls of the uninsured. Furthermore, there are many areas of our health care system where the quality lags behind other nations even as we pay a higher price.
Senators McCain and Obama have each proposed a set of reforms to the current health care system. But even accounting for the savings that could be achieved in Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, and the employer exclusion, both plans would come at a considerable cost to the U.S. Treasury.
Guide to Health Care: The 2008 Presidential Election hopes to give voters a better understanding of the fiscal implications of the candidates' health care reform proposals. It offers a background of the U.S. health care system, and gives a breakdown of the potential costs and savings for each item in the candidates' health care agendas. The guide is not intended to express a view for or against either candidate or any specific policy proposal.
The United States faces a number of serious fiscal challenges. Budget deficits are back, the economy has weakened, Social Security is unsound, growing health care spending is putting immense pressure on the budget, tax policy is at a major crossroads, and borrowing is projected to reach unsustainable levels. Politicians will have to take concrete steps to confront these challenges, and some level of sacrifice will be required. The sooner decisions are made, the better—both because it will give the public more time to adjust and because it will allow us to spread the sacrifices more broadly.
The presidential campaign can either be helpful in this process, by allowing politicians to develop a mandate for change, or damaging, if politicians merely use the election as an opportunity to promise new tax and spending initiatives that would make the situation worse instead of better. It is not surprising that politicians tend to prefer to propose costly new initiatives given that proposals to increase taxes or cut spending are rarely met with appreciation by voters and are almost always met with attacks from political opponents. But considering our current fiscal situation, it is critical that policymakers be willing to address the country’s budgetary imbalances. It will require real leadership to do so.
To help move the political discussion forward, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has put forth "Twelve Principles for Fiscal Responsibility." These principles will help voters ask the necessary questions and develop a better understanding of important fiscal issues, and they will help politicians speak directly to these looming problems in a manner that will prepare the country for the necessary changes ahead. Unless the next president and Congress take action to put our fiscal house in order, they will put the budget, the economy, and the well-being of future generations at risk.