January 08, 2004

The Twin Deficits, Growing Up, Attracting Attention

From Dow Jones Newswires this morning: The White House has said it expects the budget deficit to expand to a record $ 475 billion in fiscal 2004, exceeding 4% of the gross domestic product. U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow on Wednesday described that level as "entirely manageable," and said the Bush administration expects the deficit to shrink to 2% of GDP within five years. But the IMF researchers said that won't be enough to address the government's long-term fiscal problems - including financing the Social Security (news - web sites) and Medicare programs over the next 75 years. In their report, they said the government faces a $47 trillion shortfall in its ability to pay for those and all other long-term obligations. Closing that gap would require "an immediate and permanent" federal tax increase of 60% or a 50% cut in Social Security and Medicare benefits. The dollar's recent decline, the researchers said, suggests that foreign investors are starting to worry about the U.S. government's ability to resolve its long-term fiscal problems. "The United States is on course to increase its net external liabilities to around 40% of GDP within the next few years - an unprecedented level of external debt for a large industrial country," they said in the report. "This trend is likely to continue to put pressure on the U.S. dollar." The IMF report said the ratio of U.S. public debt to GDP is expected to increase by 15 percentage points over the next decade. If that occurred, global interest rates, adjusted for inflation, would rise by an average of 0.5 to 1 percentage point. "Higher borrowing costs abroad would mean that adverse effects of U.S. fiscal deficits would spill over into global investment and output," the report said.


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