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Friday, October 11, 2013

Zandi Testimony: Economy Poised for Growth, Congress must Fund the Government and Pay the Bills

by Calculated Risk on 10/11/2013 10:34:00 AM

Economist Mark Zandi is providing testimony this morning to the Joint Economic Committee: Written Testimony of Mark Zandi Chief Economist and Co-Founder Moody’s Analytics

The impasse in Washington over funding the federal government and increasing the Treasury debt ceiling is significantly damaging the economy. Stock prices are grinding lower and consumer confidence is weakening. The economic harm will mount significantly each day the government remains shut and the debt ceiling is not raised. If policymakers are unable to reach agreement on these issues by the end of October, the economy will face another severe recession.

To resolve the budget impasse, policymakers should not add to the significant fiscal austerity already in place, which is set to last through mid-decade. Tax increases and government spending cuts over the past three years have put a substantial drag on economic growth. In 2013, this fiscal drag is as large as it has been since the defense drawdown after World War II.

Moreover, because of fiscal austerity and the economic recovery, the federal government’s fiscal situation has improved markedly. The budget deficit in just-ended fiscal 2013 was less than half its size at the recession’s deepest point in 2009. Under current law and using reasonable economic assumptions, the deficit will continue to narrow through mid-decade, causing the debt-to-GDP ratio to stabilize.

As part of any budget deal, lawmakers should reverse the sequester. The second year of budget sequestration will likely have greater consequences than the first, affecting many government programs in ways that nearly all agree are not desirable. A sizable share of the sequestration cuts to date has involved one-off adjustments, but future cuts will have to come from lasting reductions in operational budgets.

It would of course also be desirable for lawmakers to address the nation’s long-term fiscal challenges. Although the fiscal situation should be stable through the end of this decade, the long-term outlook remains disconcerting. If Congress does not make significant changes to the entitlement programs and tax code, rising healthcare costs and an aging population will swamp the budget in the 2020s and 2030s. Both cuts in government spending and increases in tax revenues will be necessary to reasonably solve these long-term fiscal problems.
And his conclusion:
Washington’s recent budget battles have been painful to watch and harmful to the economy. Political brinkmanship creates significant uncertainty and anxiety among consumers, businesses and investors, weighing on their willingness to spend, hire and invest.

Despite this, the economic recovery is more than four years old, and the private economy has made enormous strides. Business balance sheets are about as strong as they have ever been, the banking system is well capitalized, and households have significantly reduced their debt loads. The private economy is on the verge of stronger growth, more jobs and lower unemployment.

The key missing ingredient is Congress’ willingness to fund the government and make sure all its bills can be paid. If policymakers can find a way to do these things in the next few days, almost regardless of how awkward the process is, the still-fragile recovery will quickly become a self-sustaining expansion.

We are close to finally breaking free from the black hole of the Great Recession. All it takes is for Washington to come together.
emphasis added
A Republican advisor giving testimony to Congress, and telling Congress they are the problem. Ouch.