The budget deficit will shrink to its smallest level since before the Great Recession in 2013, and it will continue shrinking through 2015, according to revised estimates from the Congressional Budget Office released Tuesday. In reality, the deficit is even smaller than the CBO predicts, since its “current law” projections assume that funding for the war in Afghanistan and federal disaster relief for states hit by Hurricane Sandy will continue in perpetuity. But that funding isn’t endless, and it will bring the deficit down to even smaller levels.
Still, under CBO’s projections, the deficit is now half as large as it was in 2009, the year President Obama took office:
If the current laws that govern federal taxes and spending do not change, the budget deficit will shrink this year to $642 billion, CBO estimates, the smallest shortfall since 2008. Relative to the size of the economy, the deficit this year—at 4.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—will be less than half as large as the shortfall in 2009, which was 10.1 percent of GDP.
The deficit is shrinking so rapidly because of spending cuts and new revenues and because CBO continues to revise down projected health spending. But that the deficit is shrinking so rapidly isn’t necessarily good news — as U.S. News and World Report’s Pat Garofalo put it, it is instead “one more piece of evidence showing that the economic discussion that has gripped Washington recently is absurdly backwards.”
Despite smaller deficits, congressional Republicans remain focused on spending reductions, and the most recent round of cuts has kicked children out of preschool, left cancer patients without needed screenings, and gutted programs that help low-income Americans in a variety of ways. Those cuts have also threatened to derail the economic recovery, which has sputtered along despite the headwinds created by a consistent focus on deficit reduction. In past recessions, increased government spending has pulled the U.S. to recovery. In this one, it has only made recovery harder.
The crisis the U.S. is facing isn’t the deficit. It’s that the unemployment rate is still 7.5 percent, and more than 4 million of those workers have been off the job for at least six months. A shrinking deficit might be good news in the long-term, but it isn’t putting people back to work or sparking a robust economic recovery. And yet, even with evidence that stimulus policies like the American Jobs Act would help, and despite the fact that the deficit continues to subside, congressional Republicans aren’t just ignoring the devastating impacts of sequestration — they are pushing for even more spending cuts in the immediate future.