Running Deficits: Positives and Pitfalls [September 14, 2010]   [open pdf - 269KB]

"Between 2007 and 2009, federal tax revenues fell by 18.0% and corporate tax revenues fell 62.7%. Government outlays rose during the recession due to 'automatic stabilizer' programs such as unemployment insurance and income support programs; federal support provided to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, and other companies; and economic stimulus legislation such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA; H.R. 1, P.L. 111-5). Anticipation of changes in partisan control of government can motivate deficits, as current policy makers may wish to restrict their successors' options. Research on state and foreign governments suggests that balanced-budget rules force governments to adjust spending and taxes sharply during economic downturns. Budget enforcement legislation, such as the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act (P.L. 101-508), may have helped preserve budgetary compromises between parties, which may have contributed to a reduction in federal deficits. Deficits can seriously harm national economies. In the short run, fiscal overstimulation leads to inflation. In the long term, deficits either reduce capital investment, which retards economic growth, or increase foreign borrowing, which swells the share of national income going abroad. Governments can spend more than they collect in revenues by printing money, which causes inflation, or by borrowing. In the long run, governments risk default and bankruptcy if they fail to repay borrowers, at least to the extent of stabilizing the ratio of government debt to gross domestic product. This report, updated with the assistance of Joseph McCormack, will be modified as events warrant."

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CRS Report for Congress, RL33657
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