WASHINGTON—A Congressional Budget Office report that spurred a partisan economic argument last week continued to pit Democrats and Republicans against each other Tuesday.
At a Senate Budget Committee hearing, Douglas Elmendorf, head of the non-partisan CBO, said the federal deficit will continue to fall through 2015 if current economic policies remain the same.
That would put the deficit at $478 billion in 2015, compared to $514 billion this year. In the past few years, the deficit has fallen steadily from its 2009 value of $1.4 trillion.
But after that, the deficit will rise again due to increased federal spending brought on by an aging population, rising costs related to health care and interest costs of the federal debt, he said. Additionally, U.S. economic growth will slow beyond 2017.
“Such large and growing federal debt could have serious negative consequences, including restraining economic growth in the long term, giving policymakers less flexibility to respond to unexpected challenges and eventually increasing the risk of a fiscal crisis,” Elmendorf said.
The findings are part of a CBO report released last week that examines the path for the economy in the next 20 years, assuming no major changes in legislation that affect government revenues or spending. The report states that the federal debt and annual deficit, while declining initially, will rise for the rest of the decade.
In the past week, Republicans in Congress have used the report to argue the Affordable Care Act will cause job losses and weaken the economy. The assertion was drawn from the CBO’s finding that the law will eventually cause approximately 2.3 million people to leave work or shorten their hours as a result of gaining stable health care benefits. Democrats defended the law, saying it would free Americans who feel stuck in their jobs as the only way to maintain health coverage.
That same partisan division was present Tuesday, when committee members used the hearing to debate the economic effects of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats applauded the health care law for allowing people to start small businesses and raise families, while Republicans criticized it for creating a disincentive to work.
“The ACA is making it possible for people to be innovative and start new companies without being locked into a job, or keeping longer hours just so they can have health insurance,” Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said.
Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said he was “shocked” that Democrats would encourage Americans to leave the workforce, and called the CBO’s economic forecast “meager.”
“Your analysis says we will have a smaller workforce,” he said. “A smaller workforce means a smaller economy … We have less total output and I think it’s very clear that that means less opportunity, less prosperity.”
Elmendorf stressed to both parties that the CBO is not evaluating the decisions or economic productivity of those who choose to leave work due to health care benefits.
The senators were split along party lines when discussing other economic policies.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., lambasted Senate Republicans for failing by one vote to extend unemployment insurance last week, calling the Senate inaction a “sad commentary on politics in Washington.”
The CBO found in December that an unemployment insurance extension would have helped raise GDP by 0.2 percent and would have added about 200,000 jobs, Elmendorf said.