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

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


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.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.