FREEPORT — Most Americans don’t wake up in the morning worrying about federal deficits, and they don’t spend a lot of time reading Congressional Budget Office forecasts, except as a cure for insomnia.

But taxpayers should be concerned about budget trends because they are going to have a significant effect on our pocketbooks, and if we don’t read the CBO forecasts we should at least know the highlights.

Here is the executive summary. The United States is facing a period of unprecedented growth in spending, deficits and accumulation of debt.

Unless there is reform of major entitlement programs and restraint in other spending sufficient to slow or reverse the rapid expansion of deficits that lie ahead, we can expect taxes to increase sharply, and not just on the rich. If we fail to alter current trends, in coming years our country will increasingly resemble the high-tax, low-growth welfare states of Europe.

To put current budget trends in perspective, in 2000, a year of moderate economic growth and a rare budget surplus of $236 billion, combined outlays for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid absorbed 37 percent of federal revenue. Interest expense accounted for another 11 percent.

In the latest CBO forecast, which assumes no changes in current law or policy, 2020 is also expected to be a year of moderate growth, but the deficit that year is expected to be over $1 trillion. Medicare and Medicaid outlays alone will absorb 33 percent of revenue, double the amount in 2000.

Social Security will take 26 percent, and interest expense, which will grow at a 13 percent annual rate over the next 10 years to $723 billion, will absorb another 16 percent of federal income.

These four budget components will account for 72 percent of revenue in 2020, compared with 48 percent in 2000.

President Obama regularly blames the Republicans and the recession for the large accumulation of deficits and debt in recent years, and it is true that the fiscal performance of Republicans from 2001 through 2008 was generally miserable.

But the Republican majority is gone and the recession ended in the middle of last year. Nonetheless, the president’s $3.8 trillion budget proposal for 2011 makes the already bleak financial outlook much worse.

Deficits from 2001 through 2008 totaled $2 trillion, averaged $251 billion, and reached a high of $459 billion in 2008 when the economy was slipping into recession.

Leaving aside the recession year of 2009, deficits from 2010 through 2017 are expected to total an astonishing $7.4 trillion, including a record-breaking $1.6 trillion this year, will average $924 billion, and by 2020 will again be over $1 trillion a year.

The president’s budget increases spending by $3.0 trillion above the CBO’s baseline projection between 2011 and 2020, and increases cumulative deficits by $4.6 trillion.

In 2020 outstanding debt will total $19 trillion, double the amount this year, and in relation to the size of the economy will be by far the highest in the country’s history.

Part of the increase in outlays is the result of continued “temporary” stimulus spending on all manner of politically popular projects, even though the economy has already begun to recover. But even a brief analysis of the budget makes clear that the rapid growth in spending is being driven by entitlements, particularly Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, whose costs have been rising faster than revenues for decades and will continue to increase rapidly in coming years as the baby-boomer generation begins to reach retirement age.

President’s Obama’s response to the need for entitlement reform has been to propose a new health-care program that would cost $950 billion over 10 years. His response to the problem of rapid spending and growing debt has been to establish a bipartisan commission to make recommendations for deficit reduction.

But the president knows perfectly well that in the absence of any spending restraint the only recommendation the commission can make is to raise taxes. This would let the president and Congress off the hook for higher taxes, which are an accepted and virtually required part of a progressive fiscal agenda. Over the next year look for growing discussion of the virtues of a national value-added tax.

Most Americans understand that countries can’t spend, borrow and tax their way to prosperity. Other administrations have been guilty of trying to do this to some degree, but President Obama’s attempt is unprecedented in magnitude.

However, an increasing number of voters are concluding that the country does not need and cannot afford the President’s version of the New Deal and are beginning to yell “Stop.” They have already done so in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts.

The rest of us will have an opportunity this coming November.


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