Public investment spending could fall to lowest level in modern history by 2026
WASHINGTON — Young Americans are having their future mortgaged by Washington lawmakers who are slashing critical public investments in future generations while simultaneously burying these generations under a mountain of debt, according to a new report published today by the Center for Funding America’s Future (CFAF) at the Progressive Policy Institute.
The comprehensive report documents these trends and explores how the reckless policies of the current administration and its predecessors will drain America’s economic strength and seriously harm young Americans for decades to come if no action is taken to change course.
“America’s current fiscal trajectory is on a dangerous path,” said Ben Ritz, director of the CFAF and author of the report. “By 2029, the national debt as a percent of gross domestic product is projected to surpass the all-time high it reached at the end of World War II, if current policies remain in place. Meanwhile, annual interest payments would explode from $316 billion today to nearly $1 trillion in 2028. That’s $1 trillion every year we could be using to build bridges and railroads, find a cure for cancer, train a next-generation workforce, strengthen our armed forces, or cut taxes for middle-class workers. Instead, it will be spent servicing past debts.”
Instead of tackling these problems, President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress are making them worse, Ritz argues. While virtually every other developed country is paying down their debts post-recession, they enacted $2 trillion in tax cuts and abandoned spending caps that Republicans demanded be imposed at a time when most economists believed it was far more perilous to cut spending than it is today.
As America racks up debt thanks to irresponsible fiscal policies, public investments are being starved. According to the report, federal spending on public investments in education, infrastructure, and scientific research was just over $300 billion in 2017 – less than 1.5 percent of GDP. Between 1965 and 1980, total federal spending on public investments regularly equaled about 2.5 percent of GDP (roughly $470 billion in 2017). If current policies continue, public investment spending is projected to fall to its lowest level in modern history as a share of the economy by 2026.
The unaffordable tax cuts enacted over the past year can and should be reversed, writes Ritz, but even if federal taxes were immediately raised to their highest level since WWII and remained there indefinitely, deficits and debt would still be growing significantly faster than the economy. It is critical that policymakers also control the costs of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, which are growing on autopilot faster than the economy due to America’s aging population.
By abandoning any pretense of fiscal responsibility, today’s policymakers are placing fiscal handcuffs on the elected officials of future taxpayers. By 2048, the report estimates Congress will have the authority to appropriate just 18 cents out of every dollar spent by the federal government, compared to 66 cents in 1968. This erosion of fiscal freedom robs future elected officials of their ability to respond to the changing policy priorities of their constituents and address unforeseen national emergencies, such as natural disasters and economic recessions.
Republicans’ fiscal mismanagement gives Democrats a unique opportunity to offer the electorate a compelling alternative: a new progressivism that invests in our country without leaving the bill to young Americans. But instead of holding Republicans accountable, some Democrats seem determined to outdo them. Many on the left now propose tens of trillions of dollars in new social spending on top of the unfunded promises the federal government already has made, without offering credible ways to pay for either.
Fixing our fiscal policy won’t be easy, but it is necessary. Ritz argues that the next Congress and President must modernize federal health and retirement programs to reflect an aging society and enact pro-growth tax reform that raises the necessary to renew public investments in the foundation of our economy. Only then can policymakers ensure America has a bright economic future.