CBO’s Scary Debt Chart Not Looking Very Scary These Days

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The CBO’s latest budget projections are out today. Here’s the scary debt chart:

Hmmm. Not so scary after all. The CBO’s projections are, of course, sensitive to both their economic forecasts and their reliance on current law. However, their economic forecast seems fairly conservative, and current law is a lot more reliable now than it was before we decided what to do about the Bush tax cuts. So CBO’s projections are probably fairly reasonable.

You can decide for yourself, of course, whether you find this debt projection scary even though it’s flat for the next decade. Maybe you think it needs to decline to give us more headroom for the future. Maybe you think it masks the problem of growing debt after 2023. Maybe you think we’re likely to have another recession over the next decade, which will balloon the debt yet again.

Those aren’t entirely unreasonable concerns. Still, the fact remains that debt reduction just isn’t a five-alarm fire kind of problem, no matter how loudly the Pete Petersons of the world claim otherwise. In fact, if you go to page 23 of the CBO report, you’ll see that federal spending is on a downward slope in almost all categories. Aside from interest on the debt, the only spending that’s projected to increase is Social Security (a little bit) and healthcare spending (a fair amount). Of those, the Social Security spending is baked in the cake and there’s nothing much we can, or should, do about it. Seniors should get the pensions they’ve been promised.

So, as usual, that leaves healthcare spending. If you’re truly concerned about debt, instead of someone who just pretends to be concerned, that’s pretty much the only thing you should care about. If we rein in healthcare spending, we’re in good shape. If we don’t, we have problems.

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