The graph all budget discussions should start with

at 09:59 AM ET, 04/11/2011

Austin Frakt/Incidental Economist
That’s Austin Frakt’s graph, which uses the Congressional Budget Office’s September numbers, and it shows what happens if we do ... nothing. The answer, as you can see, is that the budget comes roughly into balance. Our problems are solved!

But nothing is hard to do. This nothing, for instance, includes three crucial elements: (1) All the Bush tax cuts expire, as they’re currently scheduled to do; (2) The Medicare doc fix is either implemented or its repeal is paid for over the next 70 years; and (3) the Affordable Care Act is implemented, and all of its spending targets are met and all of its taxes are collected.

Except for No. 3, this isn’t the Obama administration’s plan. They want to extend most of the Bush tax cuts, and they don’t have a doc fix. But this is, nevertheless, a pretty good plan. For one thing, it doesn’t require 60 votes in the Senate. What requires 60 votes in the Senate, rather, is stopping it from happening. For another, it’s a balanced mix of revenues, through returning tax rates to Clinton-era levels and implementing the taxes in the Affordable Care Act, and program cuts, through however we handle doctor payments in Medicare and the various cuts included in the Affordable Care Act.

You could think of various ways to tweak or add to it, perhaps by swapping out some of the doc fix money for cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary spending (along the lines recommended by Simpson and Bowles), or trying to strengthen some of the cost controls in the Affordable Care Act so health-care costs don’t grow so quickly. But overall, this should be the framework we start with, if for no other reason than it’s the framework the government is currently operating under right now.

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