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The effects of the COVID pandemic on the federal budget outlook

Alan Auerbach and William Gale ()

Department of Economics, Working Paper Series from Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley

Abstract: We examine the impact of COVID-19 on the federal budget outlook. We find substantial but temporary effects on spending and revenues, with more moderate but permanent effects on the long-term projections. We project that the debt-to-GDP ratio, currently 98%, will rise to 190% in 2050 under current law, compared to a CBO pre-COVID projection of 180%. Sharply lower interest rates projected for the next dozen years help moderate future debt accumulation. Under a "current policy" projection that allows temporary tax provisions-such as those in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017-to be made permanent, the debt-to-GDP ratio would rise to 222% by 2050 and would continuing rising thereafter. The long-term projections are sensitive to interest rates. We discuss several aspects of these results, including how the current episode compares to past debt changes, the role of historically low interest rates, and the role of recent Federal Reserve Board policies and actions. Because of the macro-stabilization effects of fiscal tightening, and because low interest rates create "breathing room" for fiscal policy, we do not see the large, short-run debt accumulation resulting from the current pandemic as necessitating any immediate offsetting response. But the long-term projections show that significant fiscal imbalances remain and will eventually require attention.

Keywords: Budget outlook; COVID; Fiscal policy; Economics; Applied Economics (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020-10-12
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-mac
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