'Breathing room' ahead on US budget deficit, says CBO Chief

The federal budget deficit will shrink for the next several years, giving US 'some breathing room,' says CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf. A chief obstacle to deficit reduction? The public actually likes the benefits it gets, he says.

Michael Bonfigli/ The Christian Science Monitor
Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf speaks at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel on Sept. 18, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Budget expert Douglas Elmendorf directs the Congressional Budget Office and provided a nonpartisan analysis of the federal budget for the Sept. 18 Monitor Breakfast. 

The budget deficit today:

"Deficits are falling rapidly and that does give us some breathing room.... It would be a mistake to take that as a sort of 'all clear' signal."

Why timing is key on budget cuts:

"The negative short-term effects of raising taxes or cutting spending ... are particularly acute [now], where the Federal Reserve has pushed interest rates down to zero, because now the [Fed] can't really adjust to offset [congressional action]."

Obstacles to deficit reduction:

"I am not sure that members of the public understand the nature of the challenge. There are many people ... who don't like federal spending in the abstract ... but who actually put great value on the benefits they receive."

Whether the nation's budget problems can be solved:

"I am not a pessimist. These problems are solvable. The choices are hard, but we are a country with tremendous resources...."

The effect of a potential budget-related government shutdown:

"The possibility of a shutdown is a factor making the government less efficient."

Why defunding 'Obamacare,' as Republicans have proposed, is difficult:

"Defunding the administration of the act but leaving in place the features of permanent law that expand Medicaid eligibility ... you have essentially a conflict in the instructions to federal administrators."

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