The White House is calling the deal to raise the debt ceiling "A win for the economy and budget discipline."

 Well, at least we can say that our fearless government leaders managed to avoid government default. But the deal puts off decisions about how Congress will indeed cut the deficit to a - yes, you guessed it - a bipartisan commission! More on that later. Here is the White House press release:

Bipartisan Debt Deal: A Win for the Economy and Budget Discipline

 Mechanics of the Debt Deal

     * Immediately enacted 10-year discretionary spending caps generating nearly $1 trillion in deficit reduction; balanced between defense and non-defense spending.

    * President authorized to increase the debt limit by at least $2.1 trillion, eliminating the need for further increases until 2013.  

    * Bipartisan committee process tasked with identifying an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, including from entitlement and tax reform. Committee is required to report legislation by November 23, 2011, which receives fast-track protections. Congress is required to vote on Committee recommendations by December 23, 2011.

    * Enforcement mechanism established to force all parties – Republican and Democrat – to agree to balanced deficit reduction. If Committee fails, enforcement mechanism will trigger spending reductions beginning in 2013 – split 50/50 between domestic and defense spending. Enforcement protects Social Security, Medicare beneficiaries, and low-income programs from any cuts.    

 

More on the "bipartisan committee":

     * The Deal Locks in a Process to Enact $1.5 Trillion in Additional Deficit Reduction Through a Bipartisan, Bicameral Congressional Committee: The deal creates a bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Committee that is charged with enacting $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction by the end of the year. This Committee will work without the looming specter of default, ensuring time to carefully consider essential reforms without the disruption and brinksmanship of the past few months.

    * This Committee is Empowered Beyond Previous Bipartisan Attempts at Deficit Reduction: Any recommendation of the Committee would be given fast-track privilege in the House and Senate, assuring it of an up or down vote and preventing some from using procedural gimmicks to block action.

    * To Meet This Target, the Committee Will Consider Responsible Entitlement and Tax Reform. This means putting all the priorities of both parties on the table – including both entitlement reform and revenue-raising tax reform.

    * The Deal Includes An Automatic Sequester to Ensure That At Least $1.2 Trillion in Deficit Reduction Is Achieved By 2013 Beyond the Discretionary Caps: The deal includes an automatic sequester on certain spending programs to ensure that—between the Committee and the trigger—we at least put in place an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by 2013.

    * Consistent With Past Practice, Sequester Would Be Divided Equally Between Defense and Non-Defense Programs and Exempt Social Security, Medicaid, and Low-Income Programs: Consistent with the bipartisan precedents established in the 1980s and 1990s, the sequester would be divided equally between defense and non-defense program, and it would exempt Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, programs for low-income families, and civilian and military retirement. Likewise, any cuts to Medicare would be capped and limited to the provider side.

    * Sequester Would Provide a Strong Incentive for Both Sides to Come to the Table:  If the fiscal committee took no action, the deal would automatically add nearly $500 billion in defense cuts on top of cuts already made, and, at the same time, it would cut critical programs like infrastructure or education.  That outcome would be unacceptable to many Republicans and Democrats alike – creating pressure for a bipartisan agreement without requiring the threat of a default with unthinkable consequences for our economy.

 

Just how bad is our budget outlook, as it stands now? Here is the sober truth from the Congressional Budget Office:

 

CBO's 2011 Long-Term Budget Outlook

 

Recently, the federal government has been recording budget deficits that are the largest as a share of the economy since 1945. Consequently, the amount of federal debt held by the public has surged. At the end of 2008, that debt equaled 40 percent of the nation's annual economic output (a little above the 40-year average of 37 percent). Since then, the figure has shot upward: By the end of this year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects, federal debt will reach roughly 70 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—the highest percentage since shortly after World War II. The sharp rise in debt stems partly from lower tax revenues and higher federal spending related to the recent severe recession. However, the growing debt also reflects an imbalance between spending and revenues that predated the recession.

 As the economy continues to recover and the policies adopted to counteract the recession phase out, budget deficits will probably decline markedly in the next few years. But the budget outlook, for both the coming decade and beyond, is daunting. The retirement of the baby-boom generation portends a significant and sustained increase in the share of the population receiving benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Moreover, per capita spending for health care is likely to continue rising faster than spending per person on other goods and services for many years (although the magnitude of that gap is very uncertain). Without significant changes in government policy, those factors will boost federal outlays sharply relative to GDP in coming decades under any plausible assumptions about future trends in the economy, demographics, and health care costs.

 

According to CBO's projections, if current laws remained in place, spending on the major mandatory health care programs alone would grow from less than 6 percent of GDP today to about 9 percent in 2035 and would continue to increase thereafter. Spending on Social Security is projected to rise much less sharply, from less than 5 percent of GDP today to about 6 percent in 2030, and then to stabilize at roughly that level. Altogether, the aging of the population and the rising cost of health care would cause spending on the major mandatory health care programs and Social Security to grow from roughly 10 percent of GDP today to about 15 percent of GDP 25 years from now. (By comparison, spending on all of the federal government's programs and activities, excluding interest payments on debt, has averaged about 18.5 percent of GDP over the past 40 years.) That combined increase of roughly 5 percentage points for such spending as a share of the economy is equivalent to about $750 billion today. If lawmakers ultimately modified some provisions of current law that might be difficult to sustain for a long period, that increase would be even larger.

 

To keep deficits and debt from climbing to unsustainable levels, policymakers will need to increase revenues substantially as a percentage of GDP, decrease spending significantly from projected levels, or adopt some combination of those two approaches. Making such changes while economic activity and employment remain well below their potential levels would probably slow the economic recovery. However, the sooner that medium- and long-term changes to tax and spending policies are agreed on, and the sooner they are carried out once the economy recovers, the smaller will be the damage to the economy from growing federal debt. Earlier action would permit smaller or more gradual changes and would give people more time to adjust to them, but it would require more sacrifices sooner from current older workers and retirees for the benefit of younger workers and future generations.

 

 The White House and Congress have again kicked the can down the road in the hope they can somehow make those difficult budget choices later. No surprise there. The bleak outlook certainly calls into question how our government will unleash industry to be more competitive on a global scale. Instead, it appears individuals and corporations will be forced to pay higher taxes. And by the way,  finding new money for specialty crop farm bill programs will be well nigh impossible in the current budget environment.