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NY Times: OK, you fix the budget

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Tim Lee / The News & Observer / Newscom / File

(Read caption) Think you can balance the federal budget? Decide how much to save for Social Security, how much to spend on research and development, pick a figure for foreign aid? Thanks to a new tool at the New York Times, you have a chance to try.

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In this morning’s New York Times, this fun(?) deficit-reduction exercise constructed by David Leonhardt with the help of many of my budget-world friends (see credits/sources here). The goal? Reduce the 2030 deficit by $1.345 trillion–or $1,345 billion. (If we were to succeed, we would not eliminate the deficit, but we’d at least get it down to an economically sustainable level of 3 percent of GDP.) So David gives us an empty grid with 1,345 squares, each representing, oh, a mere billion dollars, and a bunch of fiscal policy options on both the spending side and revenue side of the federal budget for you to come up with your own favorite (or rather, least detested) ways to fill up the grid.

Why the year 2030–rather than the President’s fiscal commission’s “medium-term” goal of getting the deficit down to 3 percent of GDP by 2015? And why so many painful choices regarding major tax and spending programs in the budget? As David’s article explains:

The deficit puzzle focuses on the year 2030 because it is far enough away that the boomers’ retirement will weigh heavily on the budget but near enough that reasonable budget estimates exist. By 2030, the needed deficit cut will equal about 5.5 percent of annual economic output…

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