Deficits Are Here to Stay

Last week President Biden released his Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal. The annual release of the budget proposal is always exciting for economists that study public finance. The president’s proposal is the first step in the federal budgeting process, which in some cases leads to the full passage of a federal budget by the start of the fiscal year in October (though perhaps surprisingly, the process rarely works as intended).

This year’s budget is especially interesting to look at because it gives us our first look at what post-pandemic federal budgeting might look like. And while the budget has a lot of detail on the administration’s priorities, I like to go right to the bottom line: does the budget balance? What are total spending and revenue levels?

The bottom line in the Biden budget this year is that permanently large deficits are here to stay. Keep in mind that a budget proposal is just a proposal, but it’s reasonable to interpret it as what the president wants to see happen with the budget over the next 10 years (even if Congress might want something different). Over the next 10 years, Biden has proposed that budget deficits remain consistently right around 4.5% of GDP, with no plan to balance the budget in the near future.

How does this compare to past budget proposals? For comparison, I looked at the final budget proposals of Biden plus his two predecessors. I start Obama’s in 2021 to match Trump’s first year, and all three overlap for 2023-2026. I put these as a percent of GDP so we don’t have to worry about inflation adjustments (though we might worry about optimistic GDP forecasts, see below).

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