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An Open Letter to the American People ................................................................................................. 2
Task Force Members ............................................................................................................................... 4
Executive Summary .................................................................................................................................. 8
Summary of Recommendations ............................................................................................................. 16
Revive the Economy and Create New Jobs........................................................................................... 22
Reduce and Stabilize the Debt................................................................................................................ 27
Create a Simple, Pro-Growth Tax System ............................................................................................ 29
Restrain Rising Health Care Costs ........................................................................................................ 44
Strengthen Social Security...................................................................................................................... 70
Freeze Domestic Discretionary Spending ............................................................................................. 84
Freeze Defense Spending ........................................................................................................................ 94
Other Savings ..................................................................................................................................... 106
[Reduce Farm Spending, Reform Civilian and Military Retirement, TSA Fees,
Flood Insurance, PBGC Fees, COLAs]
Enforce the Budget, Reform the Process ............................................................................................ 119
Budget Estimates through 2040 ........................................................................................................... 122
...................................................................................................................................... 126
[Tax Reform Quick Summary, Tax Expenditures Retained in New Structure,
Actuarial Scoring of Social Security Plan, Illustrative Reductions and Terminations,
Illustrative List of Fees]
About the Bipartisan Policy Center ..................................................................................................... 136
Acknowledgements ................................................................................................................................ 137
November 17, 2010
To Our Fellow Citizens:
We believe that America is facing two huge challenges that can only be surmounted if both
political parties work together: recovery from the recession and restraining the soaring federal
debt. We also believe that these two challenges must be addressed simultaneously. Strong action
to curb the mounting debt will reinforce the recovery, not impede it.
The federal budget is on a dangerous, unsustainable path. Even after the economy recovers from
this deep recession, federal spending is projected to rise substantially faster than revenues and the
government will be forced to borrow ever-increasing amounts. Federal debt will rise to
unmanageable levels, which will push interest rates up, endanger our prosperity, and make us
increasingly vulnerable to the dictates of our creditors, including nations whose interests may
differ from ours.
This alarming prospect was created by the actions of both political parties over many years, with
strong public approval. Promises to provide benefits and services through Medicare, Medicaid,
Social Security and many other spending programs, as well as reductions in taxes, were extremely
popular and both parties took credit for them. But now, with an aging population and increasingly
expensive health care, federal spending will rise much faster than revenues if those popular
policies are not changed. However, the actions needed to reduce the growth of national debt and
bring deficits back to manageable levels are all unpopular. Neither party can take the required
actions alone without suffering adverse political consequences. The only hope is for the two
parties to come together around a bipartisan plan – which liberals, moderates, and conservatives
alike see as fair – and work together to make it a reality.
On January 25th, 2010, the Bipartisan Policy Center – founded by former Senate Majority Leaders
Howard Baker (R-TN), Tom Daschle (D-SD), Bob Dole (R-KS), and George Mitchell (D-ME) –
launched a Debt Reduction Task Force to develop a long-term plan to reduce the debt and place
our nation on a sustainable fiscal path. The BPC asked us to co-chair the Task Force and we were
honored to accept.
The two of us share strong beliefs that America must learn to live within its means, that the current
budget path endangers the future of our country, and that bipartisan action is urgently needed.
Each of us played a significant role in the successful bipartisan efforts that brought the federal
budget into surplus for four years in a row starting in the late 1990s and reduced the debt held by
the public. Senator Domenici was a leader in bipartisan negotiations that crafted the Budget
Enforcement Act of 1990 and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Alice Rivlin was part of the
Clinton Administration’s effort, working first with a Democrat-led and then a Republican-led
Congress that achieved those surpluses.
We know from personal experience that bipartisan budget agreements are extremely difficult to
create – neither side gets what it wants – but they are possible. The budget outlook is even more
threatening today than it was then, but we have faith that our political leaders will see the urgency
of working together to take the difficult actions that will restore America to economic health and
constructive world leadership.
Our Task Force – 19 Americans from across the country, with diverse backgrounds and views –
has examined a broad range of spending and revenue options for the federal government. Today
we are releasing our plan, “Restoring America’s Future.” We believe that it provides a
comprehensive, viable path to restore our economy and build a stronger America for future
generations and for those around the world who look to the United States for leadership and hope.
We offer this plan as proof that a group of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents can work
together to create a balanced package of spending cuts and revenue increases that solves the debt
crisis. Other groups might prefer other combinations of policies to reach the same ends. We
created this plan to show that it can be done – and thereby encourage others from both political
parties to bring their ideas to a constructive, respectful, and ultimately successful dialogue.
Co-Chair Senator Pete V. Domenici
Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center
Former Chairman, Senate Budget Committee (R-NM)
Co-Chair Dr. Alice M. Rivlin
Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
Former Director, Office of Management and Budget, Clinton Administration
Founding Director, Congressional Budget Office
Former Vice Chair, Federal Reserve Board
Members of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s
Debt Reduction Task Force
Chair Pete V. Domenici
Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center
Former Chairman, Senate Budget Committee (R-NM)
Chair Dr. Alice M. Rivlin
Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
Former Director, Office of Management and Budget
Budget,, Clinton Administration
Founding Director, Congressional Budget Office
Former Vice Chair, Federal Reserve Board
Robert L. Bixby
Executive Director, The Concord Coalition
James Blanchard
Partner, DLA Piper
Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada
Former Governor of Michigan
Former U.S. Representative from Michigan
Sheila Burke
Faculty, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University,
and Georgetown University
Senior Public Policy Advisor, Baker Donelson PC
Former Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole
Dr. Leonard E. Burman
Daniel Patrick Moynihan Professor of Public Affairs,
Maxwell School of Syracuse University
Former Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tax Analysis
Former Director, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center
Former Senior Analyst, Congressional Budget Office
Robert N. Campbell III
Vice Chairman and State Government Leader, Deloitte LLP
Henry Cisneros
Executive Chairman, CityView
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Former Mayor, San Antonio
Carlos M. Gutierrez
Scholar, University of Miami Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies
Former Secretary of Commerce
Former President and CEO, Kellogg USA
G. William Hoagland
Vice President of Public Policy, CIGNA
Former Staff Director, Senate Budget Committee
Former Director of Budget and Appropriations, Office of Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist
Frank Keating
Former President and CEO, American Council of Life Insurers
Former Governor of Oklahoma
Karen Kerrigan
President and CEO, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council
Founder, Women Entrepreneurs Inc.
Maya MacGuineas
President, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
Donald Marron
Director, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center
Visiting Professor, Georgetown Public Policy Institute
Former Member, Council of Economic Advisers
Former Acting Director, Congressional Budget Office
Edward McElroy, Jr.
CEO, Union Labor Life Insurance Company
Former President, American Federation of Teachers
Former Vice President, AFL-CIO
Dr. Joseph J. Minarik
Senior Vice President and Director of Research,
Committee for Economic Development
Former Associate Director for Economic Policy,
Office of Management and Budget
Former Chief Economist, House Budget Committee
Marc H. Morial
President and CEO, National Urban League
Former Mayor, New Orleans
William D. Novelli
Professor, McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University
Former CEO, AARP
Anthony A. (Tony) Williams
Executive Director of the Government Practice, Corporate Executive Board
Director of State and Municipal Practice, Arent Fox PLLC
Former Mayor, District of Columbia
Former President, National League of Cities
To arrive at consensus on a plan of this size and complexity, each of the Task Force
members made significant compromises. Not every member agrees with every element
of this plan. But, each member agrees on the urgency of economic recovery and
stabilizing the debt and believes that, as a whole, this plan offers a balanced, effective,
and reasonable approach to the twin challenges at hand. Perhaps most importantly,
the plan demonstrates that at this time of political uncertainty, a bipartisan group can
craft a comprehensive and viable blueprint to tackle the nation’s most serious
economic challenges.
America is the strongest, most prosperous, and most resilient nation in history. However,
America’s leadership and greatness, our strength and prosperity, are not guaranteed. We face two
huge challenges simultaneously.
First, we must recover from the deep recession that has thrown millions out of work, slashed home
values, and closed businesses across the country.
Second, we must take immediate steps to reduce the unsustainable debt that will be driven by the
aging of the population, the rapid growth of health care costs, exploding interest costs, and the
failure of policymakers to limit and prioritize spending.
These two challenges must be addressed at the same time, not sequentially. We need immediate
action to sustain the recovery and create jobs, but we cannot delay putting in place measures that
will restrain the buildup of debt. If we do not control the debt, the recovery will not be
With current policies in place, even when we recover from the recession, the debt will grow far
larger than the economy itself, forcing the nation to borrow enormous and unprecedented sums of
money, increasing our dependence on China and other foreign lenders, diminishing our living
standards, raising risks of an economic crisis, and reducing America to a second-rate power.
At stake are both our economic security and our national security. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben
Bernanke warns that threats to our economy are “real and growing” and that our path is
“unsustainable” because, at some point, our creditors will refuse to lend to us. Joint Chiefs of
Staff Chairman Mike Mullen calls the debt “the single biggest threat to our national security.”
That’s why we face a fundamental choice:
We can close our eyes, keep avoiding the problem, and generate more debt that will threaten our
economy, mortgage our children’s future, and diminish our leadership around the world.
Or, we can choose a new course – one that can revive our economy, create new and better jobs,
restore our financial independence, and ensure that America remains the world’s preeminent
economic, military, and political power.
This report, “Restoring America’s Future,” is a plan for that new course that we believe will meet
both the short- and the longer-run challenges simultaneously. It was developed by the Bipartisan
Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, which is chaired by former Senate Budget Committee
Chairman Pete V. Domenici and former White House Budget Director Alice M. Rivlin, and
includes 19 leading citizens from across America.
The Task Force members are former White House and Cabinet officials, former members of
Congress, former governors and mayors, business and labor leaders, economists and budget
experts. They are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. They are Americans from across
the country, with widely diverse views about public policy and the role of government.
The Task Force members understood that the key to stabilizing the debt begins with a strong
economy that reignites demand for goods and services and encourages businesses to invest and
create jobs.
Currently, millions of Americans cannot find jobs or are underemployed. That’s why this
bipartisan plan calls for suspending Social Security payroll taxes for one year (in 2011) – called a
“payroll tax holiday” – which will immediately add money to employee paychecks while
incentivizing companies to hire new workers. This tax cut of nearly $650 billion will provide a
big shot in the arm to revive our economy and create jobs.
At the same time, we must restore optimism about the economy’s future in order to boost
investment. A comprehensive debt-reduction package will assure investors worldwide that
America is back on track, with a solid plan and a stable economic future.
In that regard, the plan will reduce and stabilize the national debt below 60 percent of the gross
domestic product (GDP) – an internationally recognized standard – by 2020 and ensure that the
debt stops growing faster than our economy.
Debt Drops Dramatically Under
Bipartisan Plan
% of GDP
Baseline Debt Held by the Public
Bipartisan Plan Debt Held by the Public
Source: CBO’s “Alternative Fiscal Scenario” constructed from the August 2010 Budget and Economic Outlook,
additionally assuming that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are reduced to 30,000 by 2013.
The plan will balance the “primary budget,” the budget other than interest payments, by 2014.
On a “unified budget basis” (i.e., including interest), the plan will ensure that future budget
deficits are small and manageable.
But, above all, it will ensure a strong economy for future generations of Americans.
The Task Force approached its task as not just a challenge, but also as an opportunity to
recommend significant and sorely needed changes to both taxes and spending.
On the spending side, this plan fixes Social Security, which is on an unsustainable path, reins in
rising health care costs, and freezes both defense and domestic discretionary spending.
On the tax side, this plan dramatically simplifies taxes by eliminating years of accumulated tax
preferences – allowing major tax rate reductions, while raising additional revenues to reduce the
debt. Lower corporate rates will make America more competitive, and lower individual rates with
a simplified tax system will give taxpayers renewed confidence that our system is fair and
understandable. A Debt Reduction Sales Tax (DRST), along with the plan’s spending cuts, will
reduce our debt.
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Restoring America’s Future will:
Revive the economy and create 2.5 to 7 million new jobs over two years with a
one-year payroll tax holiday.
Balance the primary budget in 2014, reduce deficits including interest to small and
manageable levels, and stabilize the debt below 60 percent of GDP by 2020.
Create a simple, pro-growth tax system that broadens the base, reduces rates, makes
America more competitive, and raises revenue to reduce the debt.
Reduce the unsustainable rate of growth in health care costs.
Strengthen Social Security to ensure that it will pay benefits for 75 years and beyond,
while not increasing the retirement age and protecting the most vulnerable elderly.
Freeze domestic and defense discretionary spending.
Cut other spending, including farm and government retirement programs.
Our Growing Debt and the Risks of Inaction
Without action, growing deficits and debt will create serious problems for our economy, our
prosperity, and our leadership role in the world.
First, the higher the debt, the more interest we have to pay. At the moment, interest rates are at
historically low levels because of our weak economy and because the fiscal problems of other
countries leave investors around the world few attractive alternatives to U.S. Treasury securities.
But as our economy recovers and other nations address their problems, interest rates will return to
higher levels, which will increase interest costs on our debt significantly.
In 2020, the federal government will pay $1 trillion – 17 percent of all federal spending – just
for interest payments. Viewed another way, the federal government will have to allocate about
half of all income tax receipts to pay interest, and interest payments will exceed the size of the
defense budget.
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Net Interest Payments Drop
Dramatically Under Bipartisan Plan
% of GDP
Bipartisan Plan Net Interest
Baseline Net Interest
Source: CBO’s “Alternative Fiscal Scenario” constructed from the August 2010 Budget and Economic Outlook,
additionally assuming that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are reduced to 30,000 by 2013.
Moreover, by 2025, federal revenues will be completely consumed by the combination of interest
payments, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The Treasury will have to borrow money to
finance all of its other obligations – including defense, homeland security, law enforcement, food
and drug inspection and other vital operations.
These projections are based on fairly moderate assumptions about future interest rates. The
nation’s outlook will grow far more ominous if America’s creditors lose confidence in the federal
government’s commitment to address its debt problem – which will increase interest rates. A loss
of confidence in the markets could also send the value of the dollar plunging overseas, which
could trigger runaway inflation and still higher interest rates.
Rising debt and rising interest costs could evolve into a “death spiral,” with the two feeding off
one another in an ever-more vicious cycle. No one knows when such a catastrophe might occur,
but no prudent nation would put itself at such risk.
Even without a crisis, rising debt will increase our reliance on foreign lenders, raising a host of
other economic and national security issues. Already, more than half of U.S. federal debt is
foreign-owned and China is the largest foreign holder.
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Revenues Completely Consumed by
Major Entitlements and Interest by 2025
and Other
Medicare &
% of GDP
Net Interest
Source: CBO’s “Alternative Fiscal Scenario” constructed from the August 2010 Budget and Economic Outlook,
additionally assuming that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are reduced to 30,000 by 2013.
Rising deficits and debt will weaken the nation in other serious ways as well. Federal deficits
soak up private savings that would otherwise be available for investment in factories, equipment,
and jobs.
At some point, without a change in policy, the federal government’s out-of-control borrowing will
have to stop. The only question is whether policymakers address the debt problem now in a
deliberative and thoughtful manner, or whether they will be forced to do so by a sudden economic
No Easy Answers
Most Americans would be reluctant to cut several key categories of federal spending. In fiscal
year (FY) 2010:
Medicare and Medicaid consumed 21 percent of federal spending;
Social Security consumed 20 percent;
Defense consumed 20 percent;
Other mandatory spending (for example, veterans’ compensation, unemployment
insurance, and food stamps) consumed 17 percent; and
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Interest on the debt consumed 6 percent.
That leaves only 16 percent for everything else – veterans’ health care, homeland security
and law enforcement, education and student aid, roads and bridges, food and drug
inspection, energy and the environment, and so on. Clearly, there
here are no easy answers to
the debt crisis.
Interest on
the Debt
Medicare &
Policymakers cannot solve the debt crisis simply by eliminating congressional earmarks (less than
one percent of the discretionary budget) or foreign aid, which is less than one percent of the total
Nor can policymakers significantly reduce the debt by eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse,”
although they surely should undertake efforts to eliminate as much waste, fraud, and abuse as
Nor can policymakers realistically solve the problem simp
ly by cutting domestic discretionary
spending. Stabilizing the debt by 2020 through domestic discretionary cuts alone would require
eliminating nearly all such spending – everything from law enforcement and border security to
education and food and drug inspection.
Nor can policymakers rely on hopes of a strong economy to “grow our way out of the deficit.”
Just to stabilize the debt at 60 percent of GDP, the economy would have to grow at a sustained
rate of more than 6 percent per year for at least the nnext 10 years. The economy has never grown
by more than 4.4 percent in any decade since World War II.
Nor can policymakers solve the problem simply by raising taxes on wealthy Americans.
Americans Reducing
deficits to manageable levels by the end of the decade though tax increases on the most well
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Americans would require raising the top two bracket rates to 86 percent and 91 percent1 (from the
current 33- and 35 percent rates).
There are no easy answers, no quick fixes. Following is a bipartisan, fair and reasonable plan that
calls for reforms to every part of the budget and the participation of all Americans to restore
America’s future for our children and grandchildren.
Sources of Debt Reduction in BPC Plan:
Spending Cuts, Tax Expenditure Cuts, and New
Spending Cuts
Tax Expenditure Cuts
Rate Cuts and New Revenues
Note: The spending cuts total does not include the reduction of interest payments
Rosanne Altshuler, Katherine Lim, and Roberton Williams, Desperately Seeking Revenue, Tax Policy Center, January
29, 2010, http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/UploadedPDF/412018_seeking_revenue.pdf.
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Summary of Recommendations
1. Revive the Economy and Create Jobs
Enact a “payroll tax holiday” for one year (2011) – excusing employers and employees
from paying the 12.4 percent tax into the Social Security Trust Funds.
Under Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assumptions, this will create between 2.5 and
7 million new jobs.
The tax holiday will not impact the solvency of the Trust Funds, which will be reimbursed
in full from general revenues at the same time that they would have received payments in
the absence of the holiday.
2. Reduce and Stabilize the Debt
By 2020, reduce and stabilize the federal debt below 60 percent of GDP, an internationally
recognized standard for fiscal stability, and reduce annual budget deficits to manageable
The plan will balance the primary budget (the budget other than interest) by 2014.
On a “unified budget basis,” which includes interest, the plan will ensure that future budget
deficits are small and manageable. But, above all, it will ensure a strong economy for
future generations of Americans.
Reduce federal spending from a projected 26 percent of GDP to 23 percent by 2020, with
revenues at 21.4 percent.
These fiscal changes will enable the Federal Reserve to hold interest rates down longer in
order to strengthen the economic recovery.
3. Create a Simple, Pro-Growth Tax System
Cut tax rates; broaden the tax base; boost incentives to work, save, and invest; and ensure,
by 2018, that nearly 90 million households (about half of potential tax filers) no longer
have to file tax returns.
Cut individual income tax rates and establish just two rates – 15 and 27 percent –
replacing the current six rates that go up to 35 percent.
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Cut the top corporate tax rate to 27 percent from its current 35 percent, making the
United States a more attractive place to invest.
Eliminate most deductions and credits and simplify those that remain while making
them better targeted and more effective.
Replace the deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions with 15
percent refundable credits that anyone who owns a home or gives to charity can
Restructure provisions that benefit low-income taxpayers and families with
children by making them simpler, more progressive, and enabling most recipients
to receive them without filing tax returns.
Establish a new 6.5 percent national Debt Reduction Sales Tax (DRST) that, along with
the spending cuts outlined in this plan, will reduce the debt and secure America’s
economic future.
These reforms, taken together, will make the tax system more progressive.
4. Restrain Rising Health Care Costs (Savings through 2020: $756 billion, excluding interest)
Incentivize employers and employees to select more cost-effective health plans:
Cap the exclusion of employer-provided health benefits in 2018, and then phase it
out over 10 years.
Control Medicare costs in the short term:
Gradually raise Medicare Part B premiums from 25 to 35 percent of total program
costs (over five years).
Use Medicare’s buying power to increase rebates from pharmaceutical companies.
Modernize Medicare’s benefits package, including the copayment structure.
Bundle Medicare’s payments for post-acute care to reduce costs.
Preserve Medicare for the long term:
Transition Medicare, starting in 2018, to a “premium support” program that limits
growth in per-beneficiary federal support (to GDP-plus-1 percent, as compared to
current projections of GDP-plus-1.7 percent). The new system maintains
traditional Medicare as the default, but will charge higher premiums if costs rise
faster than the established limits. Alternatively, beneficiaries can opt to purchase a
private plan on a health insurance exchange. Competition among plans will
improve the quality of care and increase efficiency.
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Control Medicaid costs in the short term:
Apply managed care principles in all states to aged Supplemental Security Income
(SSI) beneficiaries.
Control Medicaid costs in the long term:
Beginning in 2018, reduce the amount by which Medicaid is growing faster than
the economy (that is, reduce annual per-beneficiary cost growth by 1 percentage
There are various approaches to achieving these savings. One option would be to
reform the shared financing arrangement between the federal and state
governments, which has led to gaming of the matching payment system and rising
health care costs. Through a federal-state negotiation, allocate program
responsibilities between the federal government and the states, so that each will
fully finance and administer its selected components of the Medicaid program.
This will restore incentives for cost containment, and slow future program spending
Reform medical malpractice laws:
Cap awards for noneconomic and punitive damages for medical malpractice.
Start large-scale testing of systemic reforms, including safe harbors for practices
that conform to accepted guidelines, specialized malpractice courts, and
administrative proceedings to resolve disputes.
Help reduce long-term health care spending to treat obesity-related illnesses – including
diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and stroke – by imposing an excise tax on the manufacture
and importation of beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
The Task Force plan accommodates a permanent fix to the sustainable growth rate (SGR)
mechanism that currently requires unrealistic automatic cuts in physician payments (which
Congress has been annually delaying).
5. Strengthen Social Security
In order to guarantee that Social Security can pay benefits for the next 75 years and beyond:
Gradually raise the amount of wages subject to payroll taxes (currently $106,800) over the
next 38 years to reach the 1977 target of covering 90 percent of all wages.
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Change the calculation of annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for benefits to more
accurately reflect inflation. (This is a technical change that will be applied in all
government programs that use COLAs, including the indexation of tax brackets.)
Slightly reduce the growth in benefits compared to current law for approximately the top
25 percent of beneficiaries.
Increase the minimum benefit for long-term, lower-wage earners, and protect the most
vulnerable elderly with a modest benefit increase. The former is particularly targeted to
address the needs of long-time laborers who are unable to remain in the workforce due to
the demanding nature of their work.
Beginning in 2023, index the benefit formula for increases in life expectancy and require
the Social Security Administration to ensure that early retirees understand that they are
opting for a lower monthly benefit. These changes will increase the incentive to work
longer, while not changing either the age of full retirement or the early retirement age from
those in current law.
Cover newly hired state and local government workers under the Social Security system,
beginning in 2020, to increase the universality of the program.
6. Freeze Domestic Discretionary Spending (Savings through 2020: $1 trillion, excluding
Freeze domestic (i.e., non-defense) discretionary spending for four years and cap at GDP
Implementing the freeze will require policymakers to terminate ineffective programs and
set priorities across the broad range of government programs. Savings can also be
achieved through adopting state and local best practices, modernizing the federal
government’s regional office structure, and sharing human resources, procurement, and
other services across federal agencies.
Enforce the freeze through statutory spending caps, which, if exceeded, trigger automatic
across-the-board cuts in all domestic discretionary programs.
7. Freeze Defense Spending (Savings through 2020: $1.1 trillion, excluding interest)
Freeze defense discretionary spending for five years and cap at GDP thereafter (baseline
assumes reduction of troop levels deployed in combat to 30,000 by 2013).
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Among the options for achieving the required savings are streamlining military end
strength, prioritizing defense investment, maintaining intelligence capabilities at a reduced
cost, reforming military health care, and applying the savings from Secretary Gates’
efficiency measures to deficit reduction.
Implement the freeze through statutory spending caps, enforceable through automatic
across-the-board cuts in all defense programs.
8. Other Savings (Savings through 2020: $89 billion, excluding interest)
Reduce farm program spending by eliminating all farm payments to producers with
adjusted gross incomes greater than $250,000, imposing limits on direct payments to
producers, consolidating and capping 16 conservation programs, and reforming federal
crop insurance.
Reform civilian retirement by calculating benefits based on a retiree’s annual salary from
his or her highest five years of government service; and reform the age at which career
military can retire to be consistent with federal civilian retirement.
Achieve other cost savings by raising fees for aviation security, actuarially adjusting flood
insurance subsidies for risk, adjusting Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation fees to better
cover unfunded liabilities, and adopting a more accurate inflation measurement to calculate
COLAs for all federal programs.
9. Enforce the Budget, Reform the Process
Enforce the four-year domestic discretionary freeze and the five-year defense discretionary
freeze, and the limits in annual growth in the years thereafter, by imposing statutory caps
on both categories of spending.
Exempt emergency spending from the caps – but strictly limit such emergencies to
specific situations, subject to certification by the President and Congress.
Require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), by law, to impose acrossthe-board cuts in all programs within the relevant category (i.e., domestic or
defense programs) if spending exceeds the caps in any fiscal year.
Prevent new tax cuts or new entitlement spending from worsening the fiscal situation by
enacting a strict, statutory “pay-as-you-go” (PAYGO) requirement:
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Require policymakers to fully offset new tax cuts, expansions of existing
mandatory spending, or new mandatory spending with increases in revenues or
reductions in mandatory spending.
Trigger fully offsetting automatic cuts in predetermined mandatory programs if
policymakers violate the requirement.
Convert the federal budget process from annual to biennial budgeting.
Enact explicit long-term budgets for the major entitlement programs.
Create a Fiscal Accountability Commission that will meet every five years to assess
whether program growth is remaining within the long-term budgets and, if not, to
propose measures to restore long-term sustainability.
(Fiscal Years, Billions of Dollars)
Cumulative Savings:
$10,197 $25,895
$5,866 $14,498
$28,852 $84,171
* The budget savings from covering newly-hired state and local workers under the Social Security
program is included in this total, but not in any of the subtotals because it is a coverage provision.
A note on the data: For assumptions about the path of deficits and debt under current federal
policies, the Task Force adopted the “Alternative Fiscal Scenario” of the Congressional Budget
Office (CBO), based on CBO’s August 2010 Budget and Economic Outlook. In addition, the Task
Force adopted CBO’s assumption that the number of U.S. troops deployed in combat would fall to
30,000 by 2013. All tax estimates have been provided by the Tax Policy Center and Social Security
estimates by the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration.
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Revive the Economy, Create New Jobs
Two Simultaneous Challenges: Economic Recovery and Stabilizing the Debt
We face two huge challenges simultaneously. We must recover from the deep recession that has
thrown millions out of work, slashed home values and closed businesses across the country. We
also must take immediate steps to reduce the unsustainable debt that will be driven by the aging of
the population, the rapid growth of health care costs, exploding interest costs, and the failure of
policymakers to limit and prioritize spending and to pay for new programs.
Some observers have argued that policymakers need to choose between economic stimulus and
deficit reduction. The Task Force, however, firmly believes it is important to take action on both
fronts at once – accelerating the recovery and phasing in deficit reduction.
Because the deficit reduction necessarily phases in slowly, we should not delay its
implementation. Moreover, having a strong deficit reduction effort in place actually will help the
recovery because it will stimulate confidence in the economy that is essential to investment and
the creation of new jobs.
Consequently, the Task Force calls for adoption in 2011 of a payroll tax holiday that will become
effective immediately and is estimated to create between 2.5 and 7 million new jobs, along with a
comprehensive package of deficit reduction measures that will begin to phase in starting in 2012.
The Task Force also considered, but ultimately chose not to include, a proposal to establish a
threshold "trigger" mechanism that would delay implementation of deficit reduction measures
until unemployment declines to a specified level.2 This was not adopted because of the prevailing
view that adoption of the payroll tax and the debt reduction package will be mutually reinforcing
measures that will revive the economy, create jobs, and control the runaway debt.
In addition to supporting the payroll tax holiday (estimated to create between 2.5 and 7 million new jobs), Task
Force Member Ed McElroy supports adoption of a trigger mechanism that would tie effective dates for the debtreduction measures to unemployment rates.
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The Risks of Runaway Debt
To put the current situation in historical context, U.S. public debt reached unprecedented heights
during World War II, and peaked at almost 109 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1946.
However, the economy grew strongly and the debt fell below 60 percent of GDP by 1953 –
bottoming at less than 24 percent in 1974 – and averaged 37 percent of GDP from 1960 to 2000.
Today, the debt has risen to about 60 percent of GDP – returning to that level for the first time in
57 years – and it is growing quite rapidly. Under current tax and spending policies, it will reach a
projected 100 percent of GDP by 2024, an unthinkable 200 percent by 2039, and even 300 percent
by 2050.
Debt Held By The Public
% of GDP
Source: CBO’s “Alternative Fiscal Scenario” constructed from the August 2010 Budget and Economic Outlook,
additionally assuming that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are reduced to 30,000 by 2013.
The federal borrowing required to finance this debt will slow economic growth and reduce our
living standards by draining our nation’s pool of savings that otherwise would be available for
investment in factories and equipment and new business ventures that boost productivity and raise
living standards. Phrased another way, large deficits put upward pressure on interest rates over the
long run, making investment more costly. Less investment means lower productivity and
diminished prosperity for future generations. High debt service costs require higher taxes, which
blunt incentives and distort business decisions, just to pay the resulting interest costs.
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Today, U.S. interest rates are at historically low levels, both because of our own weak economy
and because the economic problems of other major countries make our U.S. Treasury securities
the “least-bad” place for many investors, private and public, to put their money. But, as our
economy recovers, if interest rates rise merely to historically average levels, debt service costs will
jump very significantly. Under current policies, by 2020, interest on the public debt will reach
$1 trillion per year. By 2025, all federal revenues will be consumed entirely by interest
payments, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The federal government will have to borrow
to finance every other fundamental public purpose.
Beyond our economic security, runaway deficits and debt threaten our national security. Joint
Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen has identified the debt as “the single biggest threat to our
national security.” If current trends continue, deficits and the borrowing that they require will
crowd out of the budget the appropriate spending for our nation’s defense, not to mention the
administration of justice, the safety of our food and water, medical research, transportation, and all
other public purposes at home. In fact, by 2018, spending on interest to service the debt would
exceed spending on defense.
Maintaining such massive borrowing will increase our dependence on foreign lenders. Today,
overseas creditors own more than half of our public debt. Unlike the interest payments that the
federal government makes to domestic lenders, which transfer purchasing power from one
American entity to another, interest payments to foreign lenders represent a net reduction in our
standard of living, because those payments are not available for U.S. consumption or investment.
Moreover, the largest foreign holder of our debt is China, a nation that does not necessarily share
either America’s values or America’s strategic interests.
Over time, if we do not change course, the stature of the United States as a world leader will
gradually erode. Gradually, that is, unless our growing deficits and debt lead to a financial crisis.
As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said recently, “Creditors would never be willing to
lend to a country in which the fiscal debt relative to the national income is rising without limit.”
If America’s creditors lose confidence in the federal government’s commitment to address its debt
problem or even to service the debt, they will demand sharply higher rates of return on their
lending – that is, much higher interest rates – to lend us more. The value of the dollar will plunge,
which could trigger runaway inflation and still higher interest rates in a potentially never-ending
vicious cycle.
The Chilling Effect on the Private Sector
The prospect of excessive public deficits and debt weighs heavily on the private sector, chilling its
decisions. Over the long run, economic growth requires risk taking, which generates investment
and jobs in the near term and productivity growth and rising wages in the long term. When
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government creates uncertainty through imprudent fiscal behavior, it hinders risk taking and
economic growth, which worsens the outlook for deficits and debt, which weakens the economy,
and so on, in a brutal cycle of the kind that we face today.
Under the cloud of fiscal uncertainty, lenders will not engage in productive economic risk taking,
and borrowers and entrepreneurs facing unfavorable credit terms will not borrow. Consumers,
seeing less business risk-taking and investment and a resulting slowdown in job creation, cut back
on their consumption – which today, notably includes a sharp drop in home buying. Businesses –
even profitable ones – see the cutback in consumer spending and freeze their own hiring and
investment. The elements of this economic stalemate reinforce one another, and the human costs
of this vicious cycle are severe.
Our current economic problems require action on two fronts: a short-term jump-start to growth
and a commitment to long-term deficit reduction that makes stimulus credible. This report
recommends carefully timed action on both fronts.
A Payroll Tax Holiday to Create Up to 7 Million New Jobs
The prospect of enormous federal credit demands in the future creates anxiety and uncertainty that
weaken the effectiveness of short-term fiscal stimulus. However, the plan outlined in these pages
will address the nation’s long-term fiscal problems, providing the essential credibility for
additional action to accelerate near-term growth and job creation.
This plan begins with a strong step to restore consumer spending and confidence. Specifically, the
plan calls for a one-year “payroll tax holiday” – that is, a suspension of Social Security payroll
taxes for both individuals and businesses for 2011. Under CBO assumptions, the tax holiday will
create between 2.5 and 7 million new jobs over two years.3
At the same time, the plan calls for beginning to phase in the various elements of its debt reduction
plan starting in 2012. The gradual implementation will give the payroll tax holiday time to revive
the economy, setting the foundation for the fiscal plan that, over time, should strengthen the
economy even more.
The payroll tax holiday will apply to Social Security taxes paid by both employees and employers.
For employees, the holiday will give workers a steady and predictable stream of additional takehome pay to boost their confidence and their consumer demand. For employers, the holiday will
temporarily reduce their labor costs, giving them an incentive to hire new workers, or hire them
sooner than they otherwise might have.
Congressional Budget Office, Policies for Increasing Economic Growth and Employment in the Short Term,
Testimony of Director Douglas W. Elmendorf for the Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress (Washington, DC:
February 23, 2010), http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/112xx/doc11255/02-23-Employment_Testimony.pdf.
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A payroll tax holiday offers several benefits. Because all of the stimulus will be delivered in the
first year, it will produce benefits faster than most alternatives. The benefits will go to all wage
earners. However, because the Social Security portion of the payroll tax itself is capped, the
amount of the benefit from a payroll tax holiday is capped as well, so that the highest-paid
workers will receive less benefit as a share of their wages than will average-wage workers.
This payroll tax holiday will not deprive the Social Security Trust Fund of needed revenue or deny
a single penny to beneficiaries. The Task Force plan provides that the general fund will credit the
Social Security Trust Funds in real time for the revenues that would have been deposited, so that
there will be no loss of tax receipts, or the interest income on them, to the Trust Fund.
The program of fiscal responsibility outlined in the following pages, when coupled with this nearterm economic stimulus, will help to revive our economy and generate greater investment,
prosperity, and jobs.
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Reduce and Stabilize the Debt
The debt reduction plan outlined in these pages will reduce (and then stabilize) the public debt
below 60 percent of GDP. Our nation must address this problem now, when calm and thoughtful
deliberation is possible – rather than wait until a new and even more intense financial crisis
The plan will also balance the “primary budget” – the budget other than interest payments – by
2014, a year ahead of the goal that President Obama set for his fiscal commission.
On a “unified budget basis,” which includes interest, the plan will ensure that future budget
deficits are small and manageable. But above all, it will ensure a strong economy for future
generations of Americans.
Why 60 percent of GDP?
When economists consider fiscal policymaking, they commonly refer to the size of a nation’s debt
relative to its GDP, which is a bit like measuring a family’s mortgage and other debt relative to its
total income. Our GDP is the total production of our economy, out of which the interest on our
debt must be paid.
Based on that standard metric, the Debt Reduction Task Force chose a medium-term target debt
ratio of 60 percent of GDP.
To be sure, a higher target than 60 percent would be easier to attain. But the higher the target, the
greater are the required interest payments on that debt, and thus, the greater the drag on economic
growth – and the greater the probability of a financial crisis if and when the nation has to struggle
to meet its debt service obligations.
A lower target, on the other hand, would provide a greater margin of safety in a period of adverse
economic developments or emergencies. (However, even lower targets do not necessarily provide
margins of safety. Evaluating data that cover 44 countries over 200 years, Carmen M. Reinhart
and Kenneth S. Rogoff have found that more than half of debt crises have occurred in countries
with debt ratios of less than 60 percent.4) However, a low target may require excessively tight
budgets for too long, sacrificing essential services or public investments and enduring excessive
tax burdens, thus reducing society’s well being and economic growth.
Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff, This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2009), p. 24.
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In the view of the Task Force, a 60 percent target reasonably balances these considerations and is
consistent with globally recognized standards for fiscal stability. Unfortunately, debt held by the
public is now rising rapidly – up from about 40 percent of the economy in 2008 and 53 percent in
2009, to a projected 67 percent in 2011, 85 percent of GDP by the end of the decade, and 100
percent by 2024. Clearly, slowing the growth and then reducing and stabilizing the debt below 60
percent of GDP will be no easy task.
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Create a Simple, Pro-Growth Tax System5
Reducing the federal debt to sustainable levels will require the tax system to raise more money as
a share of the economy than it historically has done. But, the current income tax is a poor
instrument for generating additional revenues.
The individual income tax is riddled with deductions, exemptions, and credits that provide special
benefits to selected groups of taxpayers and favored forms of consumption and investment. These
tax preferences make the income tax unfair because they can impose radically different burdens on
two different taxpayers with the same income.
Tax preferences also reduce the economy’s productivity because decisions on earning, spending,
and investment are driven by tax considerations rather than the price signals that a free market
economy produces.
Moreover, tax preferences make the tax system excessively complex for honest taxpayers who are
trying to comply with the law while seeking the benefits to which they are legally entitled.
Also, the many arbitrary distinctions between transactions that are taxable and those that are not
encourage some individuals to alter their activities to avoid taxes or even to commit fraud.
The system is so complex that most taxpayers – even those with low incomes – now use either a
professional tax preparer or tax software. The alternative minimum tax (AMT), initially designed
to ensure that all high-income taxpayers paid some income tax, has become the poster child for the
tax system’s failure, requiring Congress to enact annual and increasingly expensive temporary
patches to prevent the AMT from ensnaring millions of middle class households (especially those
with children) in a web of pointless complexity, high tax rates, and unfairness.
The corporate income tax also combines high rates with many narrow tax provisions, which
encourage companies to make investments and production decisions based on taxes rather than the
underlying economics, thereby diverting scarce capital to less productive uses. Because the U.S.
corporate tax rate is now among the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD), the tax encourages an outflow of capital from the United States, reducing
U.S. output and real wages. The elevated rate also encourages U.S. and foreign-owned
corporations to engage in transactions that shift reported profits from the United States to low-tax
See Appendix A for a summary of the core provisions of the Task Force’s tax reform plan.
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Revenue Estimates of Tax Reform Plan:
Restructure itemized deductions and eliminate most tax expenditures
Tax all capital gains and dividends as ordinary income (top rate of 27%),
with $1,000 exclusion for capital gains (or losses)
Restructure tax benefits for low-income families and families with
children, and eliminate standard deduction and personal exemptions
Reduce Income Tax Rates to 15% and 27%
Reduce Corporate Tax Rate to 27%
Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax
Introduce a 6.5% Debt Reduction Sales Tax (DRST), phased-in over
2 years (3% in 2012, 6.5% in 2013)
Adjust excise tax on alcoholic beverages to 25 cents/oz
Index the tax system to a more accurate measure of inflation
Extend Estate Tax at 2009 levels (baseline assumption)
1-year social security payroll tax holiday for employees and employers
(cost in FY 2011: $481 billion )
New revenues from health and Social Security policies
Cumulative Savings:
$11,091 $23,511
The Task Force proposes a radically simplified income tax that will lower tax rates, broaden
the base, and eliminate the need for millions of households to file tax returns.6 The plan will
end most deductions and credits and simplify those that remain so that they will be more effective
and better targeted. Supplementing the income tax will be a new national Debt Reduction Sales
Tax (DRST) that will help to reduce the debt even while individual and corporate income tax rates
fall significantly.
See July 14, 2010 Senate Finance Committee testimony by Task Force Member Len Burman.
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Taken together, the tax reform plan will raise $2.3 trillion through 2020, while making the tax
system more progressive.7
The main elements of the proposal are:
Much lower marginal tax rates on individuals and corporations to improve incentives to
work, save, and invest, with the top tax rate on individuals and corporations set at 27
Reforms of major itemized deductions, making them more efficient in achieving their
objectives and reducing compliance costs;
Restructured provisions benefiting low-income taxpayers and families with children that
make those provisions simpler and more transparent, and allowing most taxpayers to
meet their obligations and receive tax rebates without filing tax returns;
An end to almost all tax expenditures to offset the costs of the much lower tax rates – this
will dramatically simplify the tax system and remove tax considerations from private
decisions on how to work, invest, and spend, thereby improving economic efficiency and
raising living standards;
A new modest national Debt Reduction Sales Tax (DRST) to reduce deficits and debt
without reducing incentives to save and invest or harming international competitiveness;
A temporary Social Security “payroll tax holiday” in 2011 to spur the economic recovery
(as described earlier in the report).
The effects of tax proposals on the progressivity of a tax system can be measured in different ways. Three
alternatives are to 1) compare how the proposal affects different income groups’ tax liabilities as a percentage of their
income; 2) compare how the proposal affects different groups’ shares of the total tax burden; or 3) compare how the
proposal affects different groups’ shares of after-tax income. Some tax changes would make the system more
progressive by some of these measures and less progressive by others. The Task Force believes that comparing how
different proposals affect after-tax income is the best way to measure changes in progressivity. By that criterion, the
Task Force’s proposed tax system is generally more progressive than current law, because the reform raises the share
of after-tax income received by lower- and middle-income people and reduces the share received by higher-income
people. At the same time, the plan maintains approximately the distribution of taxes paid by each income group as
under current law.
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The Task Force applauds the efforts of some members of Congress who have developed other
proposals to reform the income tax system. A noteworthy example of a tax reform plan is the
Bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification Act of 2010 (introduced as S. 3018), sponsored by
Senators Ron Wyden and Judd Gregg. S. 3018 would lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent,
keep the top individual income tax rate from rising above the current 35 percent, and eliminate or
reduce a number of corporate and individual preferences. Both the Wyden-Gregg proposal and
the Task Force plan aim to broaden the tax base and lower tax rates, and both share the goal of a
fairer and simpler tax system. However, the Task Force proposes a more far-reaching plan. It will
eliminate more tax preferences than S. 3018 and shift part of the tax burden from income to
consumption, making possible a lower top individual income tax rate than S. 3018 and providing
an increase in revenues to help reduce deficits and stabilize the debt for America’s future.
Lower Corporate and Individual Tax Rates
The current individual income tax system is progressive, meaning that individuals with higher
incomes pay a larger share of their income in federal income tax than those with lower incomes.
(The overall tax system, which includes payroll taxes and federal excise taxes that impose
relatively larger burdens on lower-income taxpayers, is less progressive than the income tax, but
still moderately progressive on balance). The graduated marginal income tax rate structure,
combined with personal exemptions, a standard deduction, and credits for taxpayers with children
and low-earning taxpayers, make the tax system progressive. However, provisions that provide
special exclusions, deductions, credits, and favorable rates for selected forms of income or
spending make the income tax less progressive than it would otherwise be. These preferences also
require higher tax rates to generate the same revenue.
High individual marginal tax rates have important adverse effects. They reduce incentives to save,
work, and invest. Combined with tax preferences, our current rate structure encourages taxpayers
to realize income in tax-favored forms (fringe benefits and capital gains, instead of fully taxable
cash earnings), spend money on selected activities, and choose tax-favored investments over
others with greater market returns. High marginal rates also encourage non-compliance, which
now measures an estimated 15 percent of tax liability. In general, the tax system would be fairer,
simpler, and more favorable to economic growth if it raised revenue with lower marginal tax rates
and fewer tax preferences. Reducing rates and broadening the tax base should also improve
compliance by reducing the rewards and the opportunities for underreporting tax liability.
The current corporate income tax also needs reform. The average top corporate tax rate of over 39
percent (combining the federal top rate of 35 percent and the average top state rate) gives the
United States almost the highest corporate tax rate among the developed nations in the OECD.
Although tax preferences for investment offset some of the tax burden of investing in the United
States, recent research shows that the combined effective tax rate on corporate investment in the
United States (including the effect of preferences) is also higher than the rates of most of our
major trading partners.
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Relatively high tax rates on corporate income carry two ill effects. First, they reduce the incentive
to invest in the United States, leading to an outflow of economic activity by both U.S. and foreignbased multinational corporations. Second, for any level of investment, the high rates encourage
both domestic and foreign corporations to report less income to the U.S. federal government and
more income to lower-tax foreign countries. Transfer pricing regulations place some limits on the
prices companies can report for transactions between their domestic and foreign affiliates, but
these regulations are not fully effective.
The Task Force plan will dramatically reduce both individual and corporate income tax rates. In
place of the current six-bracket system for the individual income tax, with rates ranging from 10
percent to 39.6 percent (in 2011), the plan will substitute a simple two-bracket system with rates
of 15 and 27 percent. The top corporate rate will drop from 35 percent to 27 percent, placing the
United States (when including state taxes) at about the average for the OECD instead of near the
top. Combined with other U.S. advantages as a place to do business (including our status as the
world’s central marketplace), this change will help attract investment and employment.
Reform Itemized Deductions
The current U.S. income tax system allows taxpayers to claim itemized deductions for various
types of expenditures. The largest itemized deductions are those for home mortgage interest, state
and local income and property taxes, and charitable contributions. There are also itemized
deductions for medical expenses that exceed 10 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI), and for
miscellaneous business expenses that exceed 2 percent of AGI. Taxpayers with few expenses that
qualify for itemized deductions may claim a standard deduction instead; currently, about 65
percent of tax returns claim the standard deduction (and thus, receive no benefit from itemized
Itemized deductions are often called “upside-down” subsidies. They encourage some taxpayers to
spend money on housing and charitable contributions and to support higher state public
expenditures, but the structure of the subsidy is perverse. High-income taxpayers who are in the
top tax bracket (39.6 percent in 2011) receive the largest subsidy – because an additional dollar
spent on mortgage interest or given to charity costs them only 60.4 cents (after the 39.6 percent
reduction in their income tax liability). The same dollar contributed by an itemizing taxpayer in
the 10 percent bracket costs that taxpayer 90 cents; and the 65 percent of tax filers who use the
standard deduction or have no income tax liability receive no subsidy to own homes or give to
The Task Force proposal will eliminate itemized deductions and the standard deduction. Instead,
it will allow all taxpayers to claim a 15 percent credit for home mortgage interest expenses on a
principal residence up to $25,000. It will also allow a 15 percent credit for charitable
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contributions. The credit rate will be uniform for all taxpayers, including those without income
tax liability (that is, the credits will be “refundable”).
Because the credits are universal, taxpayers will not have to file a tax return to claim them; rather
than be reimbursed directly to taxpayers, the credits will go to the institutions. Qualifying
charities will apply to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for a matching grant to supplement
contributions from taxpayers, so that for every $85 the taxpayer gives, the charity will receive
another $15. Mortgage lenders will apply for a tax credit, which will be passed through to
homeowners as a 15 percent reduction in their home mortgage interest payments.
Structuring the incentives in this way permits reductions in the costs of charitable giving and
mortgage interest payments to taxpayers, without requiring them to file a tax return if they
otherwise would not need to. Everyone who gives to charity or has a mortgage will benefit, rather
than the minority of taxpayers who benefit from these provisions under current law.
Changing the mortgage interest deduction to a refundable credit will greatly increase the number
of homeowners who qualify for subsidized interest, but will reduce the subsidy rate for highincome homeowners. In addition, the proposal provides no additional subsidy for annual
mortgage interest in excess of $25,000 and no subsidy for second homes. (At an interest rate of 5
percent, mortgages of $500,000 or less will qualify for the full subsidy.) Lower-income families,
who most need help affording homeownership, will receive much larger subsidies than under
current law, while higher-income households, who are most likely to own a home even without a
subsidy, will receive smaller benefits. Therefore, this provision should increase the rate of home
Restructuring the charitable deduction will greatly increase the number of taxpayers who receive a
subsidy for charitable donations, but will reduce the subsidy rate for upper-middle income and
upper-income taxpayers who itemize. This provision should broaden the pool of people who
donate to charity, but may alter the composition of charitable giving. Charities favored by lowerincome people (disproportionately religious organizations and organizations providing services for
the poor) may benefit.
The Task Force proposal will eliminate deductions for state and local income, sales, and property
taxes. In general, these deductions are claimed only by higher-income people who itemize, and
many of these taxes (such as local property taxes) are directly associated with public benefits that
taxpayers receive. Many economists argue, therefore, that the state and local tax deduction is an
inefficient way to subsidize states and localities. President Ronald Reagan proposed to end the
deduction in his 1985 tax reform plan. Although his proposal was not included in the 1986 Tax
Reform Act, that act did eliminate the sales tax deduction and made the state and local tax
deduction a preference item under the alternative minimum tax (which reduced or eliminated the
benefit of the deduction for many families).
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Finally, the Task Force proposal will retain deductions for medical expenses and miscellaneous
business expenses. The plan will apply a floor of 10 percent to medical deductions (as recently
enacted for the regular income tax under health reform and which already applies under the AMT),
raise the floor under the miscellaneous deduction to 5 percent, and subject both deductions to a
fixed floor of $4,600 for married taxpayers and $2,300 for single taxpayers. Taxpayers can claim,
as a medical deduction subject to the floor, employee contributions to health plans that become
taxable under this proposal. Through these provisions, the proposal will limit tax benefits for
health care expenses to those with large expenses in relation to their income.
Restructure Provisions to Benefit Low-income Taxpayers and Families with Children
Under current law, families with children benefit from numerous provisions of the income tax,
including personal exemptions for children, the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit
(EITC), the availability of head of household filing status for single parents, and the child and
dependent care credit. Many low-income families qualify for the EITC, an earnings subsidy that
varies with the number of children (up to three) and phases out for taxpayers with incomes above a
threshold amount. The EITC is the largest cash transfer program for low-income families and
raises the incomes of many low-income working families above the poverty line. But the EITC
can create very large marriage penalties because a second earner’s income can cause the EITC to
shrink or end, and the credit can discourage additional hours of work for those with incomes in the
range where the credit phases out. Moreover, the EITC is very complex. The overwhelming
majority of EITC claimants use tax preparers (mostly paid preparers, but some through voluntary
assistance programs) to complete their returns, but EITC claims still have a very high error rate,
often due to a misunderstanding of rules for determining who can claim a qualifying child.
The Task Force proposal will replace these complex provisions with two separate provisions to
help families with children and working families: a universal child credit of $1,600 per child,
indexed to changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI); and an earnings credit of 21.3 percent of
the first $20,300 of earnings for each worker in the tax unit, with the threshold amount indexed to
the CPI. To receive the child credit, the taxpayer will have to file once to qualify each time he or
she has a child (presumably at the same time as applying for the child’s Social Security number);
receipt of the credit will be automatic thereafter as long as the child continues to reside in the
household or attend school, and until he or she reaches adulthood.
The earnings credit will be provided through automatic adjustments to withholding. For workers
with only one job, there will be no subsequent adjustment needed upon filing a tax return8. As a
result, most taxpayers will receive these benefits in real time – a major improvement over the
current system – without having to file an income tax return. There will also be no phase-outs
creating marriage penalties and work disincentives. The beneficial effect of the subsidy on after-
Workers can only claim the advance credit on one job. Taxpayers can claim the credits for earnings up to the cap
from second or third jobs at the end of the year.
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tax wages, and therefore on work incentives, will be transparent to low-income households, and
most will receive the benefits automatically, without having to negotiate a complex set of rules.
The high rates for the child credit and the earnings credit will compensate low- and middle-income
families for the loss of personal exemptions, the current child credit, the standard deduction, the
child and dependent care credit, the repeal of education credits and deductions, and the effects of
other proposals in the Task Force plan, especially the proposed debt reduction sales tax. The child
credit amount will replicate, on average, the benefits that taxpayers receive for an additional child
under current law.
The new structure of tax subsidies has many benefits compared with current law. The credits will
be much simpler for taxpayers to claim, will deliver tax benefits in real time (instead of forcing
taxpayers to wait until they file their returns – even though such low-income taxpayers need the
benefit in real time to maintain adequate living standards), and will facilitate more compliance
within the income tax. The Task Force plan eliminates many of the phase-outs that currently
impose very high marginal tax rates on taxpayers whose income is in the range where the various
tax benefits phase out. The proposal also provides a simple and flexible way to offset the effects
of any changes in the tax system on low-income taxpayers.
Eliminate Tax Expenditures9
The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 defines tax expenditures as “revenue losses attributable to
provisions of the Federal tax laws which allow a special exclusion, exemption, or deduction from
gross income or which provide a special credit, a preferential rate of tax, or a deferral of liability.”
In fiscal year 2010, tax expenditures amounted to over $1 trillion. Many tax expenditures
substitute for programs that easily could be structured as direct spending. For example, the federal
income tax provides a credit (the HOPE credit) for student expenses during the first two years of
college, and another tax credit (the lifetime learning credit) with a different rate and maximum
limit that covers expenses for any qualified post-secondary education. These programs could
easily be structured as grant programs from the Education Department, in which case they would
be counted as federal expenditures. When structured as tax credits, they appear as reductions of
taxes, even though they provide the same type of subsidy that a direct spending program would,
and like a spending program, must be financed either by tax increases, cuts in other spending
programs, or increases in the deficit that pass the cost to future generations.
The Task Force plan eliminates or scales back almost all tax expenditures in the individual and
corporate income taxes. While some tax expenditures promote important social and economic
goals, others have little economic justification. Some investments (e.g., research to develop new
products and production techniques that others can replicate) and some consumption goods (e.g.,
public education or public health) arguably produce benefits to third parties (other than benefits to
See Appendix B for a list of the remaining tax expenditures.
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the investor, consumer or supplier) and therefore merit government subsidy. But tax expenditures
are not necessarily the most effective ways to promote these activities. Many tax expenditures,
moreover, subsidize activities that generate no clear benefits beyond the rewards that private
producers would receive in free markets. These tax expenditures misallocate resources by
promoting over-investment in tax-favored industries and over-consumption of tax-favored goods
and services. Tax expenditures also raise costs of compliance and administration and contribute to
the high current levels of non-compliance. Eliminating almost all tax expenditures allows the
Task Force plan to raise sufficient revenues with much lower individual and corporate tax rates
than in current law.
Limit Contributions to Retirement Saving Accounts and
Introduce a Refundable Savings Credit
Contributions to qualified retirement savings plans and income accrued within these plans are
exempt from federal income tax. (Employer contributions are also exempt from payroll taxes.)
The portion of earnings that is contributed to these accounts remains untaxed until account holders
withdraw the funds in retirement, either as a lump-sum distribution or as an annuity.
Individuals can participate in a bewildering variety of qualified tax-deferred retirement plans,
subject to various contribution limits, income limits for participation, timing of tax payments
(deductible accounts that defer payments until distribution, or pre-paid “Roth” accounts that tax
contributions but not future investment income or withdrawals), and for employer plans, “nondiscrimination” rules that limit benefits for plans that do not meet tests for broad employee
participation. In addition, the tax system includes a variety of tax-favored saving plans to fund
future health care expenses and educational expenses. Over the years, Congress has increased the
number of available tax-preferred savings vehicles, raised contribution limits, relaxed income
limits for participation, and expanded “fail-safe” options for employers to satisfy nondiscrimination requirements. The share of households’ financial wealth held directly in taxqualified retirement plans has risen from 17 percent in 1989 to 32 percent in 2007.
The Task Force plan will let most individuals retain the ability to contribute enough to qualified
retirement plans to accumulate enough tax-free assets to purchase an annuity that replaces a
substantial share of their earnings in retirement. Individuals and employers combined will be able
to contribute up to 20 percent of annual earnings to qualified plans, up to a maximum of $20,000
per year, indexed to inflation. However, qualified plans will no longer be a vehicle for wealthy
individuals to convert a substantial share of their assets into tax-free retirement assets. In addition,
to spur saving by rank-and-file workers, the plan will introduce an expanded and refundable
savings credit for taxpayers in the 15 percent bracket.
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Eliminate Special Tax Rates for Capital Gains and Dividends
Capital gains and dividends are currently taxed at a maximum rate of 15 percent, compared with a
top rate of 35 percent for earnings, interest income, and income from self-employment and from
participating in businesses that are organized as flow-through enterprises (partnerships, limited
liability companies, and subchapter S corporations). If Congress does not extend the 2001 and
2003 tax cuts, the top rate on capital gains will rise to 20 percent and the top rates on dividends
and other income will rise to 39.6 percent.
The Task Force plan will eliminate the preferential rates on capital gains and dividends. However,
because the Task Force plan lowers the top individual income tax rate to 27 percent, earnings,
capital gains, dividends, and business profits of individual taxpayers will be taxed at a maximum
rate of only 27 percent – far lower than the top rate on ordinary income and dividends under
scheduled law, and only moderately higher than that on capital gains.
Eliminating the differential between the tax on capital gains and on ordinary income will establish
equal treatment among taxpayers with different sources of income and eliminate the incentive to
use tax shelters to convert ordinary income into capital gains. Under current law, for example,
partners in private equity firms receive a substantial share of their compensation as tax-favored
capital gains, while others with variable earnings, such as salesmen on commission or executives
receiving performance-based bonuses, must pay ordinary income tax rates on their compensation.
Eliminating the capital gains differential will also reduce the compliance and administrative costs
associated with sophisticated tax-planning strategies.
While higher capital gains rates have some disadvantages – notably the “lock-in effect” that occurs
because the tax discourages sales of assets with accrued gains – at the 27 percent rate, these
adverse effects should be minimal. Notably, the Tax Reform Act of 1986, favored by President
Reagan, also taxed capital gains as ordinary income, subject to a top-bracket rate of 28 percent.
Given the significantly lower top tax rates on individual and corporate income, this reform is also
necessary to maintain the progressivity of the current tax system. In addition, the lower corporate
tax rate will offset any increase in the total tax burden on corporate equity investments from
raising the tax rate on realized capital gains and dividends.
Phase in a Debt Reduction Sales Tax (DRST)
The tax reforms described above greatly simplify the income tax system, and make it more fair
and more economically efficient. The combination of reduced tax expenditures and lower
individual and corporate rates, however, leaves federal revenue roughly unchanged through 2020
and does not raise enough revenue to reduce the debt sufficiently in the long term, as population
aging and rising health care costs drive up the cost of entitlements. Building on the base of a
greatly improved income tax, with strengthened provisions that support low- and moderate-wage
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working families and retirees, the nation can add an additional source of revenue to reduce the
debt without sacrificing fairness or economic growth.
The Task Force10 proposes a new broad-based tax on goods and services, the Debt Reduction
Sales Tax (or DRST), that will phase in over two years to a rate of 6.5 percent.11 A national sales
tax has many advantages compared to increases in income tax rates. It does not tax the return to
saving and investment, so it will not provide a disincentive for long-run wealth accumulation or
for the capital accumulation needed to generate economic growth. Unlike an increase in the
corporate income tax rate, the sales tax does not provide an incentive to shift investment overseas.
Additionally, a sales tax is based on domestic consumption instead of production. As a result, a
broad-based sales tax will not affect the relative costs of producing different goods and services in
the United States, and therefore does not place some industries at a competitive disadvantage. The
proposed DRST will be consistent with international norms and easy to coordinate with the tax
systems of other countries, while allowing the United States to set whatever specific exemptions it
deems appropriate.
The DRST will be designed roughly like the national sales taxes in effect in over 150 countries
around the world, including all of our major trading partners. Businesses pay tax on all of their
sales, but receive credits for taxes that their suppliers pay when they purchase materials and capital
goods from other firms. Final consumers in the United States, however, will not be able to claim
credits on their purchases. The resulting total tax will be the same as for a tax collected from
retailers only, but collecting the tax in stages from all businesses has two very large advantages
over the form of retail sales tax used by most states in the country.
First, collecting it in stages facilitates tax compliance because businesses that try to operate
outside the system will lose their ability to claim credits for purchases from other firms. By
contrast, under a retail sales tax, if the retailer fails to pay the tax, the tax that should have been
imposed on the entire value of the goods and services he or she sells is lost to the government.
Second, collecting the tax in stages reduces the “cascading” that occurs with a retail sales tax,
under which sellers have difficulty distinguishing between sales to other businesses and sales to
final consumers. Under most current state retail sales taxes, an estimated 40 percent of receipts
come from business-to-business sales. Consequently, some goods and services bear several levels
of tax: first when sold to a business and then when resold to the final consumer. In contrast, under
a multi-stage tax, there is no need to separate sales to different purchasers; all sales are taxable, but
business purchasers can wipe out the tax liability from the prior sale by claiming a credit for the
tax that the supplier pays.
Task Force Member Karen Kerrigan, while supporting the package as a whole and the need for both spending cuts
and new revenues to stabilize the debt, does not support the Debt Reduction Sales Tax.
3 percent in 2012, and 6.5 percent from 2013 onward.
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Following international practice, the DRST will exempt exports (allowing exporters to claim
credits on purchases, but pay no tax on sales) and tax imports (requiring importers to pay tax on
sales, but allowing them no credit on purchases). Contrary to some assertions, these rules do not
amount to either an export subsidy or an import tax (and they are allowed under international trade
agreements). These “border adjustments” merely ensure that the tax base is domestic consumption
only. Goods and services produced for domestic use bear the same tax burden whether produced
in the United States or overseas. Goods and services produced for foreign consumers bear no U.S.
sales tax, whether exported from the United States or produced overseas.
The tax will fall on a very broad base that includes most goods and services. However,
government services, services produced by charitable organizations, educational activities, the
imputed value of financial services (services that financial institutions finance by paying reduced
interest to depositors instead of charging them explicit fees – like free checking), and government
subsidies to health care (Medicare and Medicaid expenses, for example) will be exempt from the
tax. Housing rents will be untaxed, but sales of new homes and rental properties will be taxable.
All other consumer goods and services, including privately funded health care costs, food and
beverages, clothing, legal and accounting services, and many other items not typically captured by
state retail sales taxes, will be included in the tax base. Overall, about 75 percent of personal
consumption expenditures will be subject to tax.
Using a broad base to tax consumption follows the practice of countries that have recently adopted
national sales taxes (Australia, Canada, and New Zealand), compared with those that enacted such
a tax earlier (the United Kingdom, France, and other European countries), whose tax bases are
typically riddled with exemptions. A broad base allows lower rates to raise the same revenue as a
narrow-base tax with higher rates. The broad base also creates many fewer compliance problems,
because it avoids many issues that exemptions raise in determining which items are taxable and
which are not. Exemptions for items that are considered necessities (food and clothing) – intended
to make the tax less regressive – have little effect on the distribution of the tax burden because
higher-income people generally consume the same broad classes of products and services, just
higher-quality and more-expensive versions. Thus, exemptions are typically ineffective. A better
way to make a sales tax less regressive is to give taxpayers a broad-based rebate, either as a lumpsum grant or an earnings subsidy – as the Task Force plan does.
The main objections raised to a national sales tax of this type are that it is regressive; it interferes
with a revenue source that has historically been used exclusively by the states; and it would be a
hidden tax that would facilitate excessive growth in government spending. However, these
problems are either overstated or surmountable:
Regressive Burden of the Tax: Merely substituting a sales tax for our current income tax
would make the tax system less progressive, raising tax burdens on low- and middleincome families and lowering tax burdens on high-income families. But, a more-modest
sales tax can be one component of a tax system that is, on balance, even more progressive
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than today’s system, just as the regressive payroll tax is part of our currently progressive
federal tax system. The Task Force plan offsets the burden of the DRST on lower-income
families through enhanced tax benefits in the form of new refundable credits for children
and for the first $20,300 of each worker’s earnings.
Competition with the States: States may object to a new multi-stage federal sales tax on
the ground that it interferes with a tax base that has to date been reserved for them. But,
state retail sales tax bases have been eroding over time, as untaxed services account for a
growing share of economic activity, and more and more products sold on the Internet have
escaped state sales tax collections. States will benefit from piggybacking their taxes on top
of a broad-based federal sales tax. State tax authorities will benefit from access to IRS
data from sales tax returns, just as they now rely on the IRS to help them enforce state
income taxes. The recent experience with Canada’s goods and services tax suggests that
sales taxes of sub-national governments can co-exist with a national multi-stage sales tax
within a federal system.
A Sales Tax as a “Money Machine”: A sales tax need not be hidden; the law can require
that the amount of tax be itemized on sales receipts, as is now the practice in Canadian
provinces and in many U.S. states. It would be no easier for Congress to raise the DRST
than to raise income tax rates. Moreover, the 6.5 percent level of the DRST will be
sufficient to keep the public debt stabilized below 60 percent of GDP for the foreseeable
Other Options that were Considered
Many members of the Task Force expressed a desire for the DRST to phase down over time.
Therefore, the Task Force considered alternative sources of revenue that could be phased-in to
help reduce the DRST. The Task Force evaluated alternative options for their ability to promote
policy goals that would benefit the public. Of the alternatives considered, a tax on carbon dioxide
(CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion received the greatest – though not unanimous –
support. The specific option that the Task Force examined would have introduced a tax of $23 per
ton of CO2 emissions in 2018, increasing at 5.8 percent annually, allowing the DRST to start at
5.75 percent instead of 6.5 percent, and phase-down to 4 percent by the end of the next decade.
Staff projections estimate that this option would have raised about $1.1 trillion in cumulative
revenue by 2025, while resulting in CO2 emissions of 10 percent below 2005 levels in that year.
A tax on CO2 emissions has a number of desirable attributes. Unlike taxes on income, payroll, or
consumption, which penalize work effort by reducing real wages without any corresponding
economic benefit (other than the revenue raised), a CO2 tax could actually increase economic
efficiency. By establishing a price for CO2 emissions – which have a social cost – the tax would
shift production and consumption toward less carbon-intensive goods, reducing CO2 emissions in
the process. In addition, by providing certainty regarding the cost of CO2 emissions going
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forward, the tax would relieve the uncertainty that has delayed necessary capital investments in the
energy sector, while also encouraging research and development in cleaner energy technologies.
A CO2 tax would increase energy prices, however, raising concerns about impacts on energyintensive industries and regressive impacts on households. While the Task Force plan does not
include a tax on CO2 emissions, many members believe it warrants further consideration as the
nation works to address America’s long-term debt.12
Distributional Effects of the Proposal (Progressive Tax Reform)
The Task Force plan will raise taxes on all income groups except for the bottom quintile,
providing a shared sacrifice for debt reduction (see table below). On average, the tax proposals
reduce after-tax incomes by about 4 percent. The percentage reduction in after-tax income from
the tax plan, however, rises as income rises from the bottom of the distribution to the top 5
percent. The lowest fifth of taxpayers are held-harmless; the second fifth will see their after-tax
income fall by about 2 percent; and after-tax income in the top fifth will drop by 5.4 percent.13
BPC Tax Reform Plan Against CBO Alternative Fiscal Scenario Baseline
Distribution of Federal Tax Change by Cash Income Percentile,
2022 Law1
Cash Income
in AfterTax
Share of
Share of Federal Taxes
Average Federal Tax
of Total
Under the
Lowest Quintile
Second Quintile
Middle Quintile
Fourth Quintile
Top Quintile
Source: Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center Microsimulation Model (version 0509-6).
(1) Calendar year, at 2018 income levels. Baseline is CBO's alternative fiscal scenario. Threshold for the 27 percent
tax bracket is $102,000 for married couples ($51,000 for others), indexed for inflation after 2012. Earnings credit rate
Once the debt problem was fully under control, the proceeds of the carbon tax could be 100 percent rebated to
taxpayers. That would leave consumers just as well off (on average), but with a strong incentive to shift their
spending to less carbon-intensive goods and services.
This is on top of the tax increases for higher-income taxpayers from the scheduled elimination of the 2001 and 2003
tax cuts and the new taxes on investment income under health reform – both of which the Task Force plan baseline
assumes will occur.
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is 21.3 percent on earnings up to a maximum of $20,300, indexed for inflation after 2012. Earnings credit is available
for individuals under age 65 who cannot be claimed as a dependent on another's tax return.
(2) Tax units with negative cash income are excluded from the lowest income class but are included in the totals. For
a description of cash income, see http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/TaxModel/income.cfm.
(3) The cash income percentile classes used in this table are based on the income distribution for the entire population
and contain an equal number of people, not tax units. The breaks are (in 2009 dollars): 20% - 21,608, 40% - 41,284,
60% - 74,103, 80% - 129,751.
(4) After-tax income is cash income less: individual income tax net of refundable credits; corporate income tax;
payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare); and estate tax.
(5) Average federal tax (includes individual and corporate income tax, payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare,
and the estate tax) as a percentage of average cash income.
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Restrain Rising Health Care Costs
Health care spending is a large and rapidly growing part of the budget, mainly due to Medicare
expenditures and federal matching payments to states for Medicaid. Spending for these two
programs is projected to increase from 21 percent of non-interest federal spending in 2010 to 31
percent by 2020.
Federal health spending reflects trends in the overall health system. Medicare and Medicaid are
intended to provide access to mainstream health care, so general trends in the delivery of health
care inevitably influence spending in these programs. Long-term cuts in the rate of growth of
federal health spending can come only through reform of the broader health care system.
Over time, national health spending has grown about 2 percentage points per year faster than
GDP. Federal revenues, however, have grown at roughly the same rate as GDP. Consequently,
federal deficits will be driven upward by federal health programs unless their rate of growth is
Slowing the growth of health spending is realistic. Other advanced countries have substantially
lower health spending as a share of GDP, while still achieving measures of access and quality that
often exceed those in the United States. Although a uniquely American approach is required,
these comparisons show what is achievable.
Factors behind rapidly rising health care spending are well understood. Advancing technology,
much of which increases spending, is a key component. Unfortunately, important new
technologies often go to care for not only patients who can benefit substantially from them, but
also for those who are unlikely to benefit at all. Much new technology is incorporated into
standard practice without evidence that it improves outcomes.
The aging of the population is another cause behind the growth in spending, but the magnitude –
about 0.4 percentage points per year – is well below what some imagine.
A key factor behind the rising federal health care spending projected for the next two decades is
the fact that the very large Baby Boom generation is beginning to reach Medicare eligibility age.
This influx of beneficiaries translates into rapidly growing expenditures for Medicare (which
provides health care for seniors) and the federal-state Medicaid program (which provides longterm care for aging Americans).
Yet another important explanation for rising health care spending is the prevalent fee-for-service
system, which provides strong incentives to amplify the volume of tests and procedures in order to
increase revenues.
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For a long time, our nation has had a sterile debate about whether to use market or regulatory
approaches to address escalating health care spending. In fact, the nation has not pursued either
course, allowing health spending to surge at rates that are not sustainable over the long term. We
need a pragmatic approach that draws on multiple strategies.
The Task Force plan includes both demand- and supply-side approaches to slowing the growth in
overall health spending and federal spending specifically. Some aspects target the health system
in general, while others focus specifically on Medicare and Medicaid.
The major demand-side strategy is to cap and then phase out the tax exclusion of employersponsored health insurance (ESI) benefits. This policy will result in more cost-conscious choices
by purchasers of health insurance. Also on the demand side is a proposal to modernize patient
cost sharing in the Medicare program.
The key supply-side strategy is to reform provider payment incentives. Moving payment away
from fee-for-service and toward broader payment units will incentivize providers to seek more
efficient delivery systems. Health reform – i.e., the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
(ACA) – took some very important steps toward reforming provider payments in Medicare. So,
the near-term Task Force proposals are limited to a step not addressed in the ACA: bundling
payments for post-acute care into the payment for inpatient care.
For Medicaid, in the short term, the Task Force proposes to remove barriers to greater use of
managed care for those dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. For the long term, the Task
Force explores the option of delinking the current federal matching payment system, and
allocating Medicaid’s responsibilities between the federal and state governments, thereby
incentivizing each to seek efficiencies rather than shifting costs to the other.
In addition, the Task Force will reform the medical malpractice system and introduce a measure to
reduce obesity-related health expenditures.
Much of the long-run cost containment in the plan will come from transitioning Medicare from
fee-for-service to a premium support option. This change will have both demand and supply-side
effects. Those who elect to stay in traditional Medicare will be more cost-conscious because they
will be faced with an additional premium if the costs of traditional Medicare, per beneficiary, rise
faster than a specific growth rate (GDP-plus-one percent), giving them a larger incentive to enroll
in a plan offered on the Medicare Exchange. Competition among plans on the Medicare Exchange
will incentivize plans to manage care-delivery efficiently and to offer the public evidence that their
plans achieve quality outcomes at comparatively low cost.
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The Bipartisan Plan’s policies, described below, will “bend the curve” – significantly reducing the
rate at which government health programs are growing.
Bipartisan Plan Bends the Curve:
Reduces Projected Health Spending
by 1% of GDP in 2028 and 2% by 2040
% of GDP
Baseline Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP Costs
Bipartisan Plan Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP Costs
Note: Under current policies, government health care spending for Medicare, Medicaid, and the
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are projected to consume just over 5 percent of GDP
in 2010, rising to 7 percent in 2020, 9 percent in 2030, and over 10 percent in 2040 – because
health care costs are growing faster than the economy.14
The Task Force baseline assumes a permanent fix to the sustainable growth rate (SGR) mechanism that currently
requires unrealistic, automatic cuts in physician payments (which Congress has been annually delaying). The tenyear, $556 billion cost of the SGR fix is reflected in the Task Force debt projections. Specifically, the baseline
assumes that the SGR mechanism is replaced with annual updates based on the Medicare economic index (MEI), with
a hold-harmless provision for Part B premiums.
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Incentivize Employers and Employees to Select More Cost-effective Health Plans
by Capping and Phasing Out the Tax Exclusion for Employer-sponsored Health Insurance
Description of Recommendation: Under current law, employer contributions to employee health
benefits are not taxable to the employee – causing a revenue loss of about $250 billion per year.
In addition, many employers have set up a mechanism through which employee contributions
come from pre-tax income. This open-ended tax subsidy encourages overly comprehensive
insurance with fewer provisions to contain health care costs. The effect of the subsidy is to make
private health care more expensive, which increases spending in Medicare, Medicaid and other
public programs as well. Effective in 2018, the Task Force proposal will cap contributions by
employers and employees who are eligible for tax-favored treatment, and then reduce the cap each
year by equal dollar amounts, so that by 2028, all contributions to employer-based health
insurance will be taxed. This policy will replace the excise tax on high-premium health insurance
plans (known as the “Cadillac tax”) that is scheduled to take effect in 2018.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:15
$1,141 $3,299 $9,925
Background: The current tax subsidy creates two large problems:
First, it encourages higher national health spending. The purchasing of health insurance with pretax income has promoted richer benefits and fewer restrictions on care. For example, why should
a taxpayer making $100,000 per year choose a plan with a $1,000 deductible when the extra
premium for a plan with a $100 deductible is subsidized at a rate of about 45 percent?16 The tax
subsidy probably also has discouraged the purchase of insurance plans with more-limited provider
networks or greater degrees of health plan management. Private insurance products have little
patient cost sharing and offer few incentives for patients to use more efficient providers.
Combined with the existing “any-willing-provider” designs in Medicare and Medicaid, providers
have few incentives to deliver care in an efficient way.
Second, the tax exclusion leads to very large losses in revenue. The losses in federal revenues
from income taxes and payroll taxes in 2010 are $145 billion and $96 billion, respectively.17
While the Task Force believes that this policy will reduce federal health care spending, the scoring reflects only the
increased revenues. Additionally, the numbers above do not take offsetting factors (e.g., the resulting increased Social
Security benefits and increased exchange subsidies) into account, but total scoring of the Task Force plan reflects all
of these effects.
Taking into account federal and state income taxes and federal payroll taxes, tax-favored health insurance
contributions for a couple in which each spouse earns $100,000 per year is subsidized at the rate of 44 percent.
Lisa Clemens-Cope, Stephen Zuckerman, and Roberton Williams, Changes to the Tax Exclusion of EmployerSponsored Health Insurance Premiums: A Potential Source of Financing for Health Reform, Urban Institute,
Washington, DC, June 2009. http://www.urban.org/uploadedpdf/411916_tax_exclusion_insurance.pdf.
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Additionally, states with income taxes that follow the federal practice lose revenue. With health
insurance premiums growing more rapidly than the economy, future revenue losses will comprise
an even larger percentage of aggregate revenue.
Moreover, the subsidy benefits high-income people more than low-income people for several
reasons. First, high-earners are more likely than low-earners to have employer-based insurance.
And second, high-income insurance holders also tend to have more generous policies and,
therefore, higher premiums. Finally, higher marginal tax rates for those individuals lead to a much
more valuable exclusion.
This issue was addressed to a limited extent in health reform. Rather than eliminate or limit the
exclusion, the ACA instead imposed a 40 percent excise tax (called the “Cadillac tax”) on
insurers, beginning in 2018. This tax will apply to employer-sponsored plans in which employer
contributions and pre-tax employee contributions exceed $10,200 for single coverage and $27,500
for family coverage. Insurers will have no choice but to pass this tax on in the form of higher
The Task Force proposal to cap and phase out the tax exclusion will replace the “Cadillac tax.”
Although the scheduled excise tax addresses the incentives for overly comprehensive employerprovided health insurance, its scope is quite limited.
Instead, the Task Force plan will initially cap the amounts of both employer contributions and
employee contributions made through Section 125 accounts that employees can exclude from their
gross income. The cap will be set at the 75th percentile of the distribution of tax-sheltered
employer and employee contributions in 2018 – the same level as the ACA provision. This cap
will then be reduced to zero over a 10-year period, with the cap lowered by equal dollar amounts
each year. The capped and phased-out exclusion will apply to all types of health insurance,
including dental and vision coverage (in contrast to the ACA which does not apply the excise tax
to dental and vision coverage).
In recent years, some have proposed to end the exclusion and replace it with a refundable credit
available to all taxpayers. The ACA, however, will expand health insurance coverage through
Medicaid eligibility for those with incomes below 133 percent of the poverty line, and federal
subsidies to purchase insurance on state-administered health care “exchanges” for people with
incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty line. These new provisions will
adequately support many of the people whom the credit would have targeted.18
In developing our estimates of the economic effects of phasing out the exclusion, the revenue gains associated with
the policy are partially offset by increased exchange subsidy payments stemming from explicit estimates of the
number of individuals, in both large and small businesses, who would find it more economical to obtain subsidized
coverage through the exchanges, rather than continue in existing employer group health plans.
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The proposal will not apply to collective bargaining agreements signed prior to the date of
enactment. This plan also will disallow new contributions to Health Savings Accounts (HSA).
HSAs were created in 2003 legislation to encourage people to choose insurance plans with large
deductibles (often referred to as “consumer-directed health plans”). Balances in the accounts can
be used for all health expenses that are eligible for the medical expense deduction. These include
not only patient cost sharing for insured services, but also many services that are typically not
covered by health insurance, such as over-the-counter medications and eyeglasses.
Phasing out the exclusion will accomplish the objectives of the HSA legislation – health insurance
designs that maintain consumer incentives to use health care judiciously – rendering it
unnecessary. Were HSAs to continue, they would preserve tax subsidies for excessive health
spending, including many services that are too discretionary or not important enough to include in
health insurance policies, even as the subsidies for health insurance itself are eliminated.
By removing the incentives for more expensive health insurance, the nature of the coverage
obtained through employment will change substantially. Adjustments in this direction are already
appearing, even with the tax subsidy intact. They include more patient cost sharing, increased
management of imaging and, most recently, networks that exclude the least-efficient providers or
require additional patient payments to use them. Unlike most of these limited developments
today, changes that affect many more health insurance policies, such as altering the tax treatment
of health insurance, will stimulate more innovative steps by providers of care to reduce their costs
(thereby keeping down health insurance premiums). Public programs will benefit as well from the
greater efficiency.
This proposal will increase federal income tax revenues substantially, especially from higherincome people. Those with the lowest incomes, who do not benefit from the exclusion, will not be
affected. The Task Force plan also will increase payroll tax revenues and state income tax
revenues. Indirectly, the phase-out of the exclusion – producing more taxable earnings – will lead
to higher Social Security benefit payments in the future.
The revenue increase will come from a combination of taxes on health insurance contributions and
taxes on increased cash compensation. The shift to lower-premium health insurance plans will be
accompanied by a shift in compensation away from health benefits and toward other tax-favored
benefits – such as retirement contributions – and cash compensation.
To the degree that this proposal streamlines the delivery of health care, federal spending on
Medicare, Medicaid, military health care, and veterans’ health care will also be reduced.
Individuals covered by employer-based health programs and these government programs all use
the same health care delivery system, so incentives for efficient treatment of large segments of
patients will improve overall performance as well.
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Impact on Employer-sponsored Insurance
In theory, market approaches could raise costs for lower-income people, but recent changes of law
will prevent this outcome. For example, the ACA gives larger subsidies for insurance to those
with lower incomes, and thus, the market approach in this plan primarily removes a tax subsidy
that disproportionately advantages high-income people.
Ending the tax exclusion could reduce employment-based coverage. Before health reform, a
declining role for employers would have raised concern; the alternative was the individual market,
which has much higher administrative costs and no risk pool to protect those who are older or
sicker. But, ACA has created health insurance exchanges, which are potentially more efficient
markets for individual insurance. They regulate how much higher premiums can be for older
people, and preclude charging higher rates for those who have health problems. If effectively
administered, the exchanges will provide a viable – perhaps even superior – alternative to
employer coverage.
Many see a shift from employer-based coverage to individual choice of plans on exchanges as a
positive development. For many consumers, especially those in small and medium-sized firms,
employer-based coverage limits the selection of plans that are available. Firms that are too small
to offer choices must find “least-common-denominator” coverage – one plan that satisfies all of
their employees. Having a single plan also inhibits innovative features that might have strong
appeal to some employees – such as selective networks of coordinated, efficient doctors and
hospitals that charge less, and thereby pass the savings on to patients who are willing to choose
from a shorter list of providers.
Even with the phase-out of the employer-sponsored insurance exclusion, employers may continue
to offer health insurance benefits. Employers, at least large ones, can bring significant skills and
experience to the complex task of purchasing health insurance. These employers also possess
purchasing power that can help attain better prices. Large corporate purchasers, in particular,
might encourage innovation in insurance products. If these advantages prove important, larger
employers will continue to provide coverage even without the tax exclusion.
Smaller employers, on the other hand, have been much less successful in covering their employees
– even with the tax exclusion – simply because of their less-attractive risk pools and lack of
administrative economies of scale. These businesses will be less likely to continue to provide
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Control Medicare Costs in the Short Term
Scoring Note: The following four reforms will generate near-term Medicare savings beginning in FY
2012 and will remain in place permanently. However, for scoring purposes, beginning in FY 2018, all
of the Medicare savings in the Task Force plan are attributable to the “premium support option”
described later in this section. Scoring explanation: Beginning in 2018, the premium support option will
hold Medicare growth per beneficiary to GDP-plus-one percent (compared to the baseline of GDP-plus1.7 percent). The four Medicare near-term reforms yield savings less than the premium support savings,
and therefore do not score as independent savings after the premium support option is in place.
1. Gradually Raise Medicare Part B Premiums from 25 Percent to 35 Percent of
Program Costs over Five Years
Description of Recommendation: Premiums for Medicare Part B, which cover physician
services, hospital outpatient services and services provided in other outpatient settings, are set at
25 percent of costs. This proposal will raise the premiums to cover 35 percent of Part B costs,
phased in over a five-year period. Protections for low-income beneficiaries – including payment
of the premiums by Medicaid programs for those eligible and preventing dollar-amount premium
increases that are greater than an individual’s annual increase in Social Security benefits – will
remain intact.
Cumulative Budget Savings from 2012 through 2018: $123 billion
Background: When Congress created Medicare, Part B premiums were set at 50 percent of the
cost of program benefits. In 1972, responding to higher-than-expected increases in the costs of
Part B benefits, Congress limited annual percentage increases in premiums to the cost-of-living
adjustment for Social Security benefits. Over time, the percentage of Part B costs covered by
premiums fell to less than 25 percent. In 1997, after a series of short-term changes that kept the
percentage at or above 25 percent, Congress set the percentage at 25 percent. Starting in 2007,
higher-income beneficiaries have paid premiums that covered 35, 50, 65, or 80 percent of the costs
of the program depending upon income, but only 3.4 percent of all beneficiaries pay these higher
This proposal will raise the Part B premium from 25 percent to 35 percent – rising by 2 percentage
points per year over five years – for those not already subject to the higher rates. With the nation’s
ominous fiscal outlook and the large number of baby boomers soon to become eligible for
Medicare, the current rate of subsidy is no longer sustainable. Higher-income beneficiaries will
continue paying premiums ranging from 35 percent to 80 percent of program costs.
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2. Use Medicare’s Buying Power to Increase Rebates from Pharmaceutical Companies
Description of Recommendation: The ACA increased required rebates in Medicaid for singlesource drugs from 15.1 percent to 23.1 percent. In Medicare Part D, having private health plans
negotiate rebates is less effective, with the rebate for 2006 averaging only 8.1 percent. This
proposal will apply the Medicaid approach to Medicare Part D, effectively increasing the rate of
rebates by 15 percentage points.
Cumulative Budget Savings from 2012 through 2018: $100 billion
Background: Under Medicare’s Part D program that covers prescription drugs, shopping for the
best prices on single-source drugs has been delegated to the private insurers that provide the drug
coverage. Each insurer negotiates rebates with manufacturers (often through pharmacy benefit
managers or PBMs) based on its ability, through tiered benefit designs, to shift volume to those
manufacturers that offer the largest rebates. Part D’s first year of operation – 2006 – produced
rebates that averaged 8.1 percent for drugs not available as generics. The federal government can
more effectively use its potential purchasing power by requiring a minimum rebate for all singlesource drugs, and thereby achieve substantial budget savings.
3. Modernize Medicare’s Benefits Package, Including the Copayment Structure
Description of Recommendation: Medicare’s benefit structure, specified in legislation, has
changed little since the program was implemented in 1966. In many areas, it has become obsolete.
For example, prescription drug coverage was widely adopted by private insurance companies
during the 1970s, but was not included in Medicare until 2006, when a separate program (Part D)
was implemented. Medicare also has not reflected trends in private insurance, such as protection
against the costs of catastrophic illness and increased patient cost sharing. Patient cost sharing in
Medicare is uneven, with very high deductibles for inpatient care and no cost sharing at all for
home health and laboratory services. Bringing the benefit structure up to date can reduce outlays
while improving some dimensions, such as providing catastrophic protection and reducing the
very high deductible for hospitalizations.
Cumulative Budget Savings from 2012 through 2018: $14 billion
Background: Some features of Medicare’s benefit structure reflect the best thinking of 50 years
ago and have not been updated since. For example, a large hospital deductible is assessed for each
spell of illness and a separate deductible applies to Part B services. Home health and laboratory
services have no deductible. This proposal will create a modern benefit structure for Medicare
that is calibrated in a way that reduces spending overall. The modernized benefit structure will
include a combined annual deductible of approximately $560 in 2011. Once the deductible is met,
a coinsurance rate of 20 percent will apply to all services, up to an annual out-of-pocket maximum
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of $5,250. The deductible and out-of-pocket maximum will be indexed to increases in spending
per beneficiary.
To avoid having the modernized benefit structure become outdated, the Independent Payment
Advisory Board (IPAB), which ACA created to contain Medicare spending, will review the
benefit structure every two years and recommend changes to parallel developments in the private
insurance market. These recommendations will become law unless Congress acts to block them.
If private insurance continues to increase patient cost sharing and IPAB reflects this in its
recommendations for Medicare, then savings from the proposal would be greater than what is
reflected in the scoring.
This plan will provide more protection from the high costs of medical care associated with serious
illness, while at the same time supplying beneficiaries with incentives to use medical care more
judiciously. Individuals with multiple hospitalizations during a year will be better off, although
those using other services may pay more for their care. The change might reduce beneficiaries’
interest in purchasing private supplemental insurance (Medigap), because they will – for the first
time – have catastrophic protection through Medicare and premiums for Medigap will increase.
Because Medigap coverage increases Medicare spending, less Medigap usage could further
increase savings from this proposal (although these potential savings are not reflected in the
scoring). The changed benefit structure will not impact the approximately 18 percent of
beneficiaries with the lowest incomes, because Medicaid covers their Medicare cost sharing.
4. Bundle Medicare’s Payments for Post-acute Care to Reduce Costs
Description of Recommendation: Medicare’s inpatient prospective payment system provides an
undesirable incentive to hospitals to shorten lengths of stay and discharge patients to skilled
nursing facilities or rehabilitation facilities. This motivation can be corrected by broadening the
applicability of the inpatient Diagnosis Related Group (DRG) payment to post-acute services. A
larger DRG payment will go to the hospital providing acute care, which will also be responsible
for the costs of post-acute services. The new bundled payment rates will be budget neutral, with a
plan to capture 80 percent of the efficiencies gained from the broader payment unit for the
program and allow hospitals to retain 20 percent.
Cumulative Budget Savings from 2012 through 2018: $5 billion
Background: In general, broader units of payment can encourage providers to take into account
the costs incurred by others in treating a patient, and therefore motivate coordinated care. The
ACA takes a number of steps toward broader units of payment for Medicare, but more can be
done. These savings opportunities might be particularly large for post-acute care, because
payment limitations for inpatient care on a per admission basis likely already induce hospitals to
discharge patients to post-acute facilities as early as possible, even if overall costs are inflated as a
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result. The payment bundles can be broadened to include post-acute care by raising payments to
DRGs based on historical experience of use of post-acute care, and then requiring hospitals to
cover payment for these services. Broadening the bundle will likely increase efficiency, partly by
engaging hospitals as potentially sophisticated purchasers of post-acute care. These efficiency
gains can be captured by the program through monitoring changes in the use of post-acute services
and adjusting DRG payment rates to reflect the changing experience. Hospitals can either develop
contractual relationships with select post-acute facilities or provide the services themselves in
facilities that the hospitals purchase or create.
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Strengthen Medicare for the Long Term: Transition to a Premium Support Option
Description of Recommendation: Currently, Medicare is a fee-for-service system that pays for a
set of benefits specified in legislation, including hospital services, physician services, home health
services and certain other categories. Provider payment rates are set by the government, and
patients are subject to some cost sharing, such as deductibles. In a fee-for-service system, neither
patient nor provider has much incentive to hold down costs or provide services in the most
efficient way. This proposal will transition Medicare to a premium support program, and will
control the growth of the total cost of the program. Starting in 2018, federal support per Medicare
enrollee will be limited to the 2017 level and will be allowed to grow no faster than a five-year
moving average of GDP growth plus one percentage point.
Like today, Medicare enrollees will be in the traditional fee-for-service program unless they
choose a private plan. However, if federal spending per enrollee for the benefits specified in
legislation rises faster than GDP growth plus one percent, beneficiaries will have to pay an
additional premium to cover the difference. They can avoid that additional premium, however,
and potentially get higher quality health care, if they choose a private health plan offered on a new
Medicare Exchange. The expectation is that increased competition among plans fostered by the
Medicare Exchange, and increased beneficiary interest in these plans, will keep costs from rising
rapidly and result in higher quality, more cost-effective health care.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
$2,089 $7,147
Background: Like all health care spending, the per-enrollee cost of benefits in Medicare has risen
faster than per-capita GDP – on average, 1.7 percentage points faster per year from 1985 to 2008.
With federal revenues growing at roughly the rate of increase in GDP, outlays for Medicare are
growing sharply as a percentage of the federal budget.
This proposal will limit growth in federal support for Medicare per beneficiary19 to one percentage
point per year higher than a five-year moving average of GDP growth. If Medicare spending per
enrollee for the benefits specified in legislation rises at a faster rate, enrollees will have the option
of paying an additional premium to cover the difference and remaining in the traditional Medicare
program, or selecting a private insurance plan from the Medicare Exchange.
While the proposed premium support option resembles the current structure of Medicare
Advantage, there are differences. Competition among plans will be enhanced by creating a federal
Medicare Exchange, which will facilitate beneficiary choice and enrollment and increase the
competitiveness of the market, leading to lower premiums.
After adjustment for changes in the size of the beneficiary population.
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Premium support will be set at the same initial level – and grow at the same rate – both for
individuals entering the Exchange and for those who remain in traditional Medicare. Individuals
whose Part B and Part D premiums are paid by Medicaid programs will not be affected. Budget
savings come from the difference between projected trends in Medicare spending per enrollee
under current law (averaging GDP plus 1.7 percent) and GDP growth plus 1 percentage point per
year under this proposal. To promote stability, the proposal calls for employing a five-year
historical trend of per-capita GDP rather than the change over a single year.
This proposal will provide incentives for Medicare Exchange plans to develop products that will
save beneficiaries money. Today, if a Medicare Advantage plan has very low costs, it cannot pay
a rebate to enrollees; instead, it must increase benefits. Under this proposal, Medicare Exchange
plans can offer beneficiaries relief from rising Medicare premiums. The Task Force plan might
also increase political support – by Medicare beneficiaries, their children, and those approaching
Medicare eligibility – for federal policies that promote cost containment in health care.
Asking beneficiaries to pay more for their Medicare coverage (or shift to a lower-cost plan)
mirrors what has happened in private insurance over the past decade, with increases in patient cost
sharing to keep premium growth from exceeding income growth by too large a margin.
Employers have generally opted to increase patient cost sharing rather than increase the
percentage of the premium that employees contribute. The former keeps employees enrolled in
the plan and encourages more judicious use of health services.
Impact of the Proposal
Similar to any proposal that increases what individuals have to pay for Medicare, higher costs may
be challenging for those with lower incomes, although individuals with the lowest incomes will
not be affected because Medicaid programs pay their premiums. Additionally, beneficiaries will
be able to mitigate that burden by choosing from an array of plans on the Medicare Exchange,
which generally will offer an economically attractive package, but often involve some reduction in
provider choice to steer consumers to the most efficient providers. The Medicare Exchange, by
making the market more competitive than the current market for Medicare Advantage plans, will
increase the attractiveness of private plans to beneficiaries.
The long-term impacts will depend on whether the trend of Medicare spending slows appreciably.
If the Task Force’s short-run health proposals, along with other reforms embodied in recent
legislation, help to slow health care costs as anticipated, then reductions in support from this
proposal will not have a significant impact. For example, if capping and phasing out the tax
exclusion for employer-sponsored insurance curbs the growth of health care costs, Medicare
spending could slow enough that additional premiums are not triggered.
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Control Medicaid Costs in the Short Term: Eliminate Barriers to Enrollment for
Medicare/Medicaid Dual Eligibles in Managed Care Options
Description of Recommendation: Under current law, states have made substantial progress in
enrolling mothers and children in managed care programs, which typically expand treatment
options available to low-income families while moderating the growth in benefit costs. Among
the Medicare/Medicaid dual-eligible population, however, managed care enrollment has been
limited: in 2008, only 12.6 percent of dual eligibles were enrolled in comprehensive managed care
plans. While some of the constraints on managed care enrollment for this population flow from
the characteristics of the population and the inadequate availability of appropriate programming,
many states seeking to establish or expand managed care programs for duals have encountered
barriers to doing so. This proposal will create a pathway around those barriers for states seeking
to implement such measures by providing a fast-track channel for waiver applications, and
eliminating barriers created by the present upper payment limit rules on provider reimbursement.
Cumulative Budget Savings from 2012 through 2018:20 $5 billion
Background: Since the early 1990s, states have effectively used managed care benefit designs to
improve the access of Medicaid beneficiaries to medical care, while helping the states to control
Before the expansion of managed care options, Medicaid beneficiaries could choose among only a
small group of physicians, due to the typically low payment rates that state Medicaid programs
offered providers. Before Medicaid managed care, many physicians refused to accept Medicaid
patients, while underserved areas with high concentrations of Medicaid patients had difficulty
attracting providers. The combined effect of these access barriers forced beneficiaries to seek care
in institutional settings – often on an emergency basis. Therefore, many beneficiaries received
care that was both inefficient and medically inappropriate.
Enrolling beneficiaries in managed care options – including commercial health maintenance
organizations (HMOs) – gave Medicaid beneficiaries a route around these access barriers. The
networks offered by managed care plans typically paid physicians rates that were more
comparable to commercial market rates, relying on the ability to manage health care utilization –
rather than provider rate restraints – to control costs. The managed care model, centered on
assigning each beneficiary to a primary care physician as his or her care manager, offered
Medicaid beneficiaries a “medical home” in which they could seek care before problems became
emergencies. Other managed care program features, such as 24x7 nurse hotlines, gave
beneficiaries viable alternatives to emergency room visits. Policy analysts broadly agree that
managed care has led to substantial improvements in physician access for many Medicaid patients.
The Task Force does not score any savings from this proposal past 2018 (when the Medicaid program is decoupled)
because it is not known whether the states or federal government will take responsibility for the aged SSI population.
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States also found managed care contracting more cost-efficient than unmanaged fee-for-service.
Many states offered contracts at discounts to Medicaid fee-for-service rates; other states used
multi-year contracting to constrain the growth of benefit spending over time. Most evaluations of
Medicaid managed care waiver programs during the initial rollout in the 1990s showed success in
controlling costs.21
Consequently, managed care options for low-income mothers and children spread rapidly across
states, and commonly expanded within states to reach an ever-larger share of that population. As
of June 2008, 71 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries – some 33.4 million Americans – received at
least some services through managed models.22 Of these, 65 percent were in full-risk plans.23
Expansion of managed care options for other subsets of the Medicaid population, however, has
been much less rapid. While many states have innovative programs for blind and disabled
individuals (who are eligible for Medicaid through enrollment in the Supplemental Security
Income (SSI) program), aggregate enrollment of this population in full-risk plans is not
significant. Among the aged dual-eligible population, roughly one-third receives some kind of
services via managed care models, but only 12.6 percent are enrolled in full-risk plans.
Across states, enrollment of dual eligibles in full-risk managed care models varies substantially.
As of June 2008, 23 states had no dual eligibles enrolled in full-risk plans. Even within the other
27 states, only 16.7 percent of the dual population was enrolled in full-risk plans.
The Task Force proposal will provide a route around many of the barriers for states that are
motivated to expand the use of managed care plans. The proposal calls for a new pathway for
presumptive approval of program designs that meet basic criteria for enrolling dual eligibles in
risk contracts.24 Armed with a clear picture of what the federal government will or will not
approve, state policymakers can work within those known constraints to fashion a program that
most closely accommodates state-level interests.
The proposal will also modify the rules determining the upper payment limit (UPL) – the rules on
aggregate reimbursements to different classes of providers – to encourage institutional providers to
enroll dual eligibles in risk contract arrangements. This feature of the policy will not add to
Medicaid program costs because, in the absence of such a policy, there would be no change in the
Menges, J. et al., Medicaid Managed Care Cost Savings – a Synthesis of 24 Studies (Falls Church, VA: The Lewin
Group) July 2004, updated March 2009.
Kaiser Commission on Medicaid & The Uninsured, Medicaid & Managed Care: Key Data, Trends & Issues. (Palo
Alto: Kaiser Family Foundation), February 2010.
In this presentation, the term “full-risk plans” includes plans in states that carve out some benefits (e.g., outpatient
prescription drugs) from the benefits package.
To implement such a policy, Congress could add a new paragraph to §1915(b), creating such a pathway in statute.
The Secretary could also use the existing authority under §115 to establish such a pathway via regulation.
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total amount of match enhancement states achieve under so-called UPL programs. The policy
will, however, permit more states to expand the role of managed care contracting for delivering
Medicaid benefits to dual eligibles.
The Task Force has assessed the fiscal impact of this proposal conservatively. Our estimates
assume that the proposal will not affect dual enrollments in managed care in those states that
already have increased dual enrollments beyond the managed care participation rate of their total
population. As a proxy for the outcome of decision-making by other states after the creation of
this new avenue, we assume that by 2015, managed care enrollment by dual eligibles will rise, on
average, to the level of managed care enrollment in the general population.25 Our estimates
assume that managed care enrollment will rise to slightly over 43 percent of the dual eligible
For the 30.5 percent of the dual population that will be newly enrolled in managed care, we
assume that Medicaid spending will not change in the year of first enrollment, but that per capita
spending growth thereafter for that cohort will grow one percentage point slower than that for the
balance of the dual eligible population. The savings estimates presented show the compound
effect of this differential growth rate over time. As stated earlier, we do not expect the proposal to
increase the managed care enrollment rate of the rest of the SSI population.
Our estimates take this value as an average; we expect some states to achieve greater or lesser managed-care
enrollment for duals than the general population.
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Control Medicaid Costs in the Long Term:
Incentivize Government to Control Medicaid Growth
Description of Recommendation: Under the Medicaid program, the federal government makes
matching payments that fund most costs states incur in providing covered services to eligible
individuals. This arrangement has become increasingly strained over the years. The federal
government routinely lowers the cost of new health policy initiatives by requiring states to furnish
them through Medicaid. States, partly in response to what they view as unfunded program
mandates, have devised complex financing arrangements with providers that permit the drawdown
of additional federal funds, thereby effectively enhancing the matching rate applicable to the
program. Because incentives on both sides of the arrangement have motivated cost-increasing
policies, this relationship has become increasingly dysfunctional.
The Task Force’s goal is to reduce excess cost growth in the Medicaid program (i.e., the amount
by which growth in Medicaid costs exceeds the growth of GDP) by one percentage point per year.
There are multiple approaches to achieving this goal, one of which is described here. This option
would break the Medicaid financial link between the federal government and the states in a
budget-neutral manner. A process would be set in motion to determine the optimal allocation of
program responsibilities between the two parties, at the conclusion of which the federal
government and the states would divide up responsibility for fully financing different components
of the Medicaid program. Making each party fully responsible for the future growth of the
components under its direct control will restore incentives for cost containment, and slow the
future growth of program spending.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: When Congress enacted the Medicaid program in 1965, the incentives of the
federal and state parties administering the program were fairly closely aligned. States could
determine their own eligibility levels and benefits, the costs of which the federal government
shared based on a matching formula that took income variations across states into account.
Payments to providers were made under standard national payment methodologies established for
Medicare, meaning that the federal government had substantial control over the way payments
were made. For the first 20 years of the program, federal and state cost growth, while significant,
occurred in tandem.
Starting in the 1980s, federal and state perspectives on Medicaid began to diverge. As part of the
major budget legislation of the early 1980s, states obtained the authority to devise their own
reimbursement policies, subject to general “upper payment limits” on aggregate reimbursements to
different classes of providers. Over the next 10 years, state payment methodologies for all types
of providers began to differ substantially from emerging Medicare reimbursement policies.
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Throughout the history of Medicaid, Congress has added new eligibility categories, often
employing the program as the “insurer of first resort” for beneficiaries with special needs (e.g.,
developmentally disabled children). In the late 1980s, federally directed eligibility expansions
became more wholesale, requiring states to ratchet up their income eligibility standards for women
and children to ever-higher percentages of the federal poverty income level. These requirements
produced particularly large eligibility expansions in the southern states, because many had
previously constrained Medicaid eligibility standards at low levels relative to the federal poverty
States responded to the federal directive to expand eligibility in two ways:
First, they sought every possible opportunity to amend the financing structure of state- and locallyfunded health care programs to cover additional services under Medicaid, and hence receive
federal matching payments for these services. While certain services, such as state mental
institutions, were barred from coverage by law, states became highly creative in obtaining
Medicaid coverage for health services – such as visits to the school nurse by low-income children
– that were previously fully funded with state and local resources. This search for federal dollars,
referred to as “Medicaidization,” brought dozens of new provider types and service categories
under Medicaid.
Second, states invented creative financing schemes that, in effect, increased the federal matching
rate for Medicaid. By way of illustration, providers (e.g., hospitals) were asked to contribute to
state matching payments under Medicaid. States then increased reimbursement rates for providers
who contributed to offset (or more than offset) the amount transferred – with much of the funding
for these increased reimbursement rates coming from the federal government. Under these
arrangements, donor hospitals were better off, and the states achieved a substantial amount of
fiscal relief – at the price of increasing federal matching payments. By the late 1980s, virtually
every state had some form of “match enhancement” program, under which the states collectively
made tens of billions of dollars of supplemental payments to providers, particularly hospitals, to
enhance their effective matching rates. The graph below shows the effect of these changes in
payment policy.
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Growth in Federal and State Spending on Medicaid, 1966-2009
Millions of $
Federal Matching
After the mid-1980s, federal and state expenditures on Medicaid – which had grown in tandem
from 1966 to about 1985 – began to diverge. The growth in federal payments became greater and
the growth in state payments became lower than the overall growth in Medicaid program costs.
As shown in the graph below, a large share of this divergence came from “match enhancement.”
By the early 1990s, the effective matching rate for hospital services exceeded 70 percent far more
than the national average matching rate of 56 percent that had prevailed throughout the first 25
years of the program.
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Federal Medicaid Matching Payments to States, 1966-2010
Effective FMAP
In 1992, Federal Matching
Payments for Hospitals Peaked
Above 70%
Alarmed by this cost growth, Congress in 1992 outlawed the “voluntary donations” and “providerspecific taxes” that states were using to operate these financing schemes, and capped the amount
of disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments that states used to circumvent the upper
payment limits. States responded by restructuring their programs around public providers (e.g.,
state- and locally-owned hospitals) to finance match enhancement payments via inter- and intragovernmental transfers of funds, which Congress could not constitutionally limit. Over the
ensuing decade, Congress tightened the limits further on upper payment limit programs – the
mechanisms that states invented to enhance the federal match via payments to public providers.
Still, a shoving match between the two parties continues. In 2010, when the federal government
elected to increase the amount of rebates paid by pharmaceutical manufacturers under Medicaid,
Congress elected to make the new incremental rebate payments 100 percent federal. In exchange,
the first few years of a major Medicaid expansion are financed with a 100 percent federal match,
but states will be required to contribute to the cost of this new benefit mandate beginning in 2017.
As history makes clear, the federal and state governments are working at cross purposes in
Medicaid. Both parties understand that their short-term advantage is to obligate the other party to
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increase payments under the program. In the medium-and longer-term, however, the growth in
Medicaid costs is pushing state governments to the brink of insolvency, while federal Medicaid
payments represent the fastest-growing component of the unsustainable growth in health care
entitlement costs. As long as the present matching relationship continues, there will be incentives
for Medicaid costs to grow faster than if either party were fully responsible for managing program
The Task Force proposal reduces excess cost growth in the Medicaid program (i.e., the amount by
which growth in Medicaid costs exceeds the growth of GDP) by 1 percent per year.
One option that could achieve this cost control would set up a process to allocate current Medicaid
responsibilities between the federal government and the states – in a budget-neutral manner. By
2019, the federal government would finance 100 percent of the future cost of a set of programs
whose cost is, at that point, equal to what the federal government would have spent under the
matching relationship. Similarly, the states would assume 100 percent of the future cost of the
remaining program base, at an initial cost that is equal to what they would have spent under the
current matching arrangement. Because the per-capita cost of Medicaid varies across states, the
state payments in the early years would have to be equalized to ensure that every state has an
adequate initial fiscal base to run the nationally uniform set of programs that the states would be
required to assume. Over time, states could obtain fiscal relief by effective management of these
programs – and from the elimination of the federal threat to encumber state resources further
through new Medicaid mandates. They could not, however, back away from the obligation to
provide the allocated services at an adequate level.
There are multiple ways in which responsibilities could be allocated between the federal
government and the states: The split could assign entire population groups to one level of
government or another, or allocate based on the type of benefit (e.g., long-term care versus acutecare services), or based on provider types (e.g., responsibility for payments to non-medical
providers). The process also should permit federal and state negotiators to go beyond Medicaid
and assign other programs for low-income populations that make sense in light of the policy logic
informing the allocation.
The allocation itself should be based on formal negotiations between federal officers and a set of
state officers chosen to represent state interests nationwide. Creating an effective allocation and
devising a legal framework to implement it would take three or four years. Congress should
consider the implementing legislation under “fast track” authority. If the negotiating body fails to
devise implementing legislation by a time certain, the Secretary of Health and Human Services
would have the authority to submit implementing legislation, under a comparable fast-track
process. This proposal assumes that the first full year of implementation would be in 2019.
Delinking Medicaid financing from the matching relationship should permit the federal
government to slow future cost growth by one percentage point per year. This is not an overly
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ambitious target; over the 1985-2009 period, an equivalent goal could have been achieved simply
by lowering the Medicaid annual growth rate (7.83 percent) halfway toward that of the federally
administered Medicare program (5.65 percent).
This proposal is offered only as an illustration of one way to contain the future growth of
Medicaid. One concern is the possibility that some states might give inadequate support to the
programs allocated to them, so maintenance of effort requirements might be warranted. Other
approaches are possible and should be explored.
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Additional Health Care Reforms
1. Require States to Cap Awards for Noneconomic and Punitive Damages for Medical
Description of Recommendation: States will receive substantial incentives to reform their tort
laws governing medical malpractice so that caps are applied to noneconomic and punitive
damages. Savings will come from lower liability premiums for physicians and hospitals and a
reduction in defensive medicine. The federal government will provide substantial grants to states
to fund the development and testing of major reforms in the medical liability system, such as safe
harbors for practicing in accordance with accepted practice guidelines, specialized medical
liability courts, enterprise liability, and special administrative procedures for handling most
medical malpractice claims.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: The current tort system to adjudicate injuries to patients from medical malpractice
does an insufficient job of deterring poor care and compensating patients who have been injured
by it. Less than two-thirds of malpractice insurance premiums actually go to injured patients, with
the rest going toward administration. This split inflates premiums for physicians, an effect that is
then passed through in charges to patients, and limits the compensation paid to injured patients.
Another cost is defensive medicine – physicians’ use of unnecessary services to reduce the
probability of being sued. According to recent research, physicians perceive the probability of a
lawsuit as much higher than it actually is, but these fears likely lead to both defensive medicine
and reluctance to take steps to control costs. Some states have successfully kept malpractice
premiums low by capping awards for noneconomic and punitive damages. Research has shown a
modest reduction in defensive medicine from these caps.
The Task Force proposal provides a strong financial incentive to states, such as avoiding a cut in
their Medicaid matching rate, to enact caps on noneconomic and punitive damages. However, the
proposal does not address some of the root problems of the medical malpractice system, and
therefore the Task Force proposes that this policy be accompanied by a substantial federal effort to
pilot more systemic reforms by states. For example, one promising reform appears to be creating
a safe harbor for physician actions that conform to broadly accepted practice guidelines.26 Others
include specialized medical liability courts, enterprise liability, and use of administrative
procedures to resolve claims for medical malpractice. Because these approaches must be piloted
See Michele Mello and Allen Kachalia, Evaluations of Options for Medical Malpractice System Reform. Medicare
Payment Advisory Commission, Contractor Report No. 10-2, April 2010.
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prior to broad implementation, the savings estimate above does not include potential reductions in
spending from these broader reforms.
2. Introduce an Excise Tax on the Manufacture and Importation of Beverages Sweetened
with Sugar or High-fructose Corn Syrup (Non-diet Soft Drinks, Sweetened Fruit Drinks,
etc.) to Reduce Obesity-related Health Care Costs27
Description of Recommendation: Over the past several decades, the percentage of Americans
who are overweight or obese has increased dramatically. This increase has serious implications,
not only for the general welfare and productivity of the population, but also for federal spending
on health care. In addition, per-person spending on obesity-related diseases has risen faster than
the overall rate of health care spending.
To help reduce health costs that are associated with growing obesity in America, this proposal will
impose an excise tax in 2012 of 1 cent per ounce, indexed to inflation after 2018, on the
manufacture and importation of beverages sweetened with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or
similar sweeteners. The tax will not apply to artificially sweetened soft drinks – for example,
those sweetened with aspartame or saccharine. Sugar-sweetened fountain-drink syrup will be
taxed at a higher rate per ounce, such that the rate per ounce of fountain drink will be roughly
equivalent to the tax rate on ready-to-drink soft drinks.28
While sweetened beverages are not solely responsible for the increasing numbers of overweight
and obese people, medical research has found that these drinks are a contributing factor, and that
soft-drink consumption may also be directly associated with diabetes. Research on the effects of
existing state excise taxes on manufacturers of soft drinks indicates that a federal tax of the size
proposed in this option will have a small but quantifiable effect on the national average body mass
index (BMI, a standard measure of obesity).29 By helping to reduce BMI and health problems
associated with obesity – such as heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and cancer – this policy should
reduce federal spending on health care, although the magnitude of this effect is difficult to project.
The budget effects shown below reflect only the direct revenue impact of the excise tax.
Cumulative Revenue in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
See Congressional Budget Office, Budget Options, Volume I: Health Care (December 2008), 192,
“Fountain-drink syrup” refers to concentrated, flavored syrup that is sold in bulk to establishments such as
restaurants and then is mixed with water at the point of purchase.
Congressional Budget Office, Budget Options, Volume I: Health Care, 192.
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Background: The increasing number of overweight and obese individuals has serious
implications for federal spending on health care. Overweight and obese individuals are at greater
than average risk of developing serious illnesses, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, and
hypertension. Being overweight can also aggravate chronic conditions and create complications
with other less serious diseases. A number of researchers, as well as a recent Congressional
Budget Office report, have estimated that average spending on health care for obese individuals is
nearly 40 percent higher than spending on health care for individuals at a normal weight.30 In
addition, spending by overweight and obese individuals on health care grew roughly 1.7 times
faster than spending by those at a normal weight since 1987.
Since 1987, the number of obese adults in America has more than doubled, rising from 13 percent
of the population in 1987 to 28 percent in 2007. During the same time period, the share of adults
who were either overweight or obese rose from 44 percent to 63 percent. Currently, 67 percent of
adult Americans are considered overweight and 33 percent are considered obese. If these trends in
obesity persist, some research suggests that 86 percent of American adults will be overweight or
obese by 2030.31
These fundamental changes reflect not only demographic factors, such as the aging of the
population – which can lead to generally higher numbers of the overweight and obese due to
natural lifestyle and physiological changes – but also a significant rise in the average daily caloric
intake of Americans. From 1970 to 2000, the median age in the country rose from 28.1 years to
35.3 years and the percentage of Americans over 65 rose from 9.9 percent to 12.4 percent.32 The
Centers for Disease Control reports that, over the same period, Americans increased their daily
caloric intake from an average of 1,996 calories in 1971 to 2,248 calories in 2000 – nearly a 13
percent increase. Some of this increase comes from greater snacking and the consumption of
higher-calorie food options, but Americans as a whole are shifting a greater proportion of their
daily calorie intake into sweetened beverages. From 1997 to 2002 alone, the percentage of total
caloric intake from beverages rose from 14 percent to 21 percent.33 Over the past three decades,
children have increased their consumption of sweetened fruit juices and non-diet soda from about
eight ounces per day in 1977 to roughly 16 ounces by 2006. During the same period, adults
increased their consumption of sweetened juices and non-diet sodas from five ounces in 1977 to
13 ounces in 2006.34
Noelia Duchovny and Colin Baker, “How Does Obesity in Adults Affect Spending on Health Care?” CBO
Economic and Budget Issue Brief (Congressional Budget Office, September 2010): 5,
See Travis Smith, et. al. “Taxing Caloric Sweetened Beverages: Potential Effects on Beverage Consumption,
Calorie Intake and Obesity,” (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service), Report Number 100,
(July 2010), for a summary of the literature.
Frank Hobbs and Nicole Stoops, “Demographic Trends in the 20th Century,” Census 2000 Special Reports (U.S.
Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, November 2002): 57, http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/censr4.pdf.
Smith, et. al. “Taxing Caloric Sweetened Beverages: Potential Effects on Beverage Consumption, Calorie Intake
and Obesity,” 4.
Ibid, 5.
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Many have suggested taxing sweetened beverages in order to discourage their consumption and
help ameliorate some of the higher medical costs associated with obesity. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture estimated that a 20 percent price increase in the cost of these beverages, resulting from
an excise tax, could cause an average reduction of 37 calories per day, or 3.8 pounds of body
weight over a year for adults. The cost increase was also projected to result in an average
reduction of 43 calories per day, or 4.5 pounds over a year, for children. These decreases in
calorie intake, the Agriculture Department said, will lead to a reduction in adult overweight
prevalence from 66.9 to 62.4 percent, as well as a reduction in obesity from 33.4 percent to 30.4
percent. These figures reflect strictly the effect of reduced consumption resulting from the tax.
While obesity is certainly only one of many contributors to elevated national health costs, the Task
Force believes that this price increase for sweetened beverages is a step in the right direction
toward addressing this factor.
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Strengthen Social Security
Social Security has served as a foundation for retirement for hundreds of millions of American
workers ever since its creation in 1935. By any reasonable standard, it has been the most
successful antipoverty program in the nation’s history. Upon signing the measure into law,
President Franklin Roosevelt said:
We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred
percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law
which gives some measure of protection to the average citizen and his family
against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.35
With the recent financial meltdown and deep recession continuing to affect the lifetime savings of
millions of Americans, this message of economic security remains just as relevant today as it was
75 years ago.36
The Social Security program has two distinct parts: Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI), and
Disability Insurance (DI).37 OASI consists mainly of the retirement security system with which
most people are familiar, while DI serves Americans who become disabled during their working
years and can no longer be gainfully employed. Both parts are funded with payroll taxes that are
levied on working Americans and collected in the Social Security Trust Funds.38 From those
Trust Funds, payments are then made to retirees, survivors of deceased workers, and disabled
workers in the form of monthly benefits – the amounts of which are determined by a formula tied
to a worker’s average wages over a career. In short, Social Security disburses among society the
cost of providing basic retirement and disability guarantees to nearly all working Americans.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, signing statement for the Social Security Act, August 14th, 1935. Additional quotes by
Roosevelt on the subject of Social Security can be accessed online at http://www.ssa.gov/history/stool.html.
The importance of Social Security in maintaining the economic well-being of elderly and disabled Americans
cannot be overstated. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), in 2008, Social Security benefits
constituted 36.5 percent of total income for the elderly. A majority of aged beneficiaries attributed more than one-half
of their income to benefits. Even more striking is the fact that a significant share of the elderly population (21 percent
of married couples and 43 percent of unmarried individuals) relied on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their
incomes. As such, Social Security has been a major force in reducing the elderly poverty rate from over 35 percent in
1959 to less than 10 percent in 2009 (SSA).
Although the following changes to Social Security are largely targeted toward the OASI program, the Task Force
recognizes the urgency of addressing the fast-approaching depletion of the DI Trust Fund (2018, under the most recent
projections). Some components of the Task Force plan add revenues (e.g., increasing the amount of income subject to
payroll taxes) or reduce spending (e.g., changing to a more accurate COLA calculation) for the DI program over the
next decade, but those changes alone will not forestall the exhaustion of the Trust Fund for long. Further review and
adjustments to the DI Trust Fund will be necessary.
“Social Security Trust Funds” refers to two separately managed accounts: the OASI Trust Fund and the DI Trust
Fund – each of which funds the corresponding program. Payroll taxes are split percentage-wise between the two.
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Social Security’s fiscal outlook, however, is unsustainable39 due largely to three factors. First and
foremost, the Baby Boom generation is on the cusp of retirement, carrying with it a wave of new
beneficiaries who will draw upon (rather than contribute to) the Trust Funds. The ratio of workers
to retirees has been stable for many years, but the retirement of the baby boomers will rapidly
shrink this ratio over the next two decades.40
Second, Americans are living longer than their predecessors. But, today’s workers are, on
average, actually retiring earlier than previous generations. Therefore, workers are contributing
fewer years of payroll taxes to the Trust Funds, while retirees are collecting more monthly
Third, due to the rising distributional disparity in wages, a smaller percentage of the nation’s
income is subject to the Social Security payroll tax, eroding funding for the program.
This combination of demographic, benefit, and revenue effects is already reducing the solvency of
Social Security. In almost every year of the program’s existence, it has collected more revenues
from payroll taxes than it has paid in benefits to retirees. This year, however, that is not the case.
In 2010, for the first time in many years, the Trust Funds will run a deficit and will have to draw
on the interest flowing from the program’s “savings” that have accrued from prior payroll tax
contributions. Furthermore, this deficit will persist in most upcoming years so that the Trust
Funds will be completely exhausted by 2037. At that point, current law would prohibit the
program from borrowing additional monies to continue disbursing scheduled payments; thus, an
across-the-board 22 percent cut in monthly benefits would occur, undoubtedly accompanied by
severe consequences and hardship for millions of Americans.
In the early 1980s, Social Security was in similarly difficult straits. President Reagan formed a
bipartisan commission that produced a package of proposals, including benefit adjustments,
revenue increases, and coverage expansions that served as the core of reforms that Congress
enacted. This collaboration is evidence that Social Security can be maintained and strengthened in
a bipartisan manner, but the current prospects of the program, only 25 years later, show that it was
not altered in a sustainable manner for the long run.
To ensure that Social Security can provide benefits for future generations of retirees, we must
avert the impending drop-off in benefits and return the program to long-term solvency. Doing so
will require bipartisan cooperation and a modest amount of sacrifice by workers and retirees, but
addressing the problem now in a rational and equitable manner will be far easier than waiting until
the crisis is near, when much more severe actions would be necessary. Public policy analysts
from across the political spectrum acknowledge that Social Security must be adjusted to remain
The program is unsustainable with current law scheduled benefits and tax rates.
In particular, the U.S. birth rate fell off of its post-war high and appears to have settled at a permanently lower level
thereafter. Thus, there have not been a sufficient number of workers joining the workforce to compensate for the
impending exit of the baby boomers (SSA).
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viable in the face of demographic and economic changes and that acting soon is preferable to
waiting.41 Enacting a plan within a year and slowly phasing-in the solution over the coming
decades will require only limited changes and will also permit future retirees to anticipate the
changes and prepare for them. Waiting until close to 2037 to put Social Security on a sustainable
path would necessitate much larger changes in revenues or benefits and cause anxiety and
uncertainty for those approaching retirement age.
After considering an extensive list of options, the Task Force has carefully assembled a package
that achieves two critical goals: ensuring the ability of the Trust Funds to pay out benefits for each
of the next 75 years (and beyond), and providing necessary support to the most vulnerable retirees,
as well as to those who have contributed to society through their labor for many years. The first
objective is aided by Task Force proposals in other policy areas, most significantly the phase-out
of the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance. Taxing these insurance premiums
paid by employers (or the increased wage compensation) as regular income enables Social
Security to collect additional revenues from payroll taxes, which allows for fewer benefit
adjustments than would otherwise be necessary.
Similar to the 1983 reform, the Task Force package includes modifications to benefits, revenue
increases, and the incorporation of currently uncovered populations into Social Security. This set
of proposals directly addresses both the benefit-side issue of increasing life expectancies, and the
revenue-side problem of a deteriorating tax base. The changes also will help ease the financial
burden imposed by the retirement of baby boomers.
While proposing policies to guarantee the financial health of Social Security, the Task Force
acknowledges the need for Americans to work longer before retirement. Specifically, the plan
encourages longer working lives through education and stronger incentives – but it does not
propose to change either the age of full retirement or the earliest retirement age as specified in
current law. Not only do more workers with longer years in the workforce help the economy, but
for many retirees, working longer can also make the difference between poverty and a comfortable
standard of living in old age.
Social Security’s Chief Actuary has verified that the Task Force proposal, outlined below,
achieves “sustainable solvency”42 – a metric that the 1983 reform failed to meet – meaning that the
plan will stabilize the program’s finances for the reasonably foreseeable future.43 The Task Force
Charles Blahous and Robert Greenstein, “Social Security Shortfall Warrants Action Soon,” Pew Economic Policy
Group (2010), http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/Economic_Mobility/PEW-Socialsecurity-paper.pdf.
The Task Force plan produces sustainable solvency for the OASDI Trust Fund. In order to ensure that both Trust
Funds are sustained for the next 75 years and beyond (given DI’s particular financial difficulties), however, an
increased percentage of the 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax must be allocated to the DI Trust Fund.
The Chief Actuary’s scoring of the package is shown in Appendix C. Dollar savings from Social Security proposals
are based on SSA models, but have been modified to conform to TPC calculations and the CBO baseline that the Task
Force uses.
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also has included provisions to protect both long-term, lower-wage workers and older
beneficiaries who outlive their savings and fall into a state of poverty that, still today, confronts
too many retirees.
Social Security is a defining piece of the social fabric and an incredibly successful program. It
does not need to be fundamentally altered; rather, it needs only modest adjustments so that it can
continue to serve as a financial foundation for millions of retirees, survivors, and disabled workers
across the country. The Task Force plan will restore the faith of younger generations in the
program and the belief that it will be there for them in their old age, and thus fulfill the
commitment that society owes to the current generation of American workers, as well as its
children and grandchildren.
How Are Social Security Benefits Calculated?
When a worker becomes eligible to receive Social Security benefits, the monthly amount is
determined through a two-stage process. First, the worker's lifetime average monthly earnings are
calculated by taking annual earnings (up to the maximum amount covered under Social Security) for
the 35 highest-earning years, adjusting each one by the subsequent increase in the average wage
level. The 35 years of adjusted earnings are then averaged and divided by 12. The result is the
worker's lifetime average indexed monthly earnings.
Second, Social Security's progressive benefit formula is applied to the worker's average indexed
monthly earnings. This formula, for an individual reaching age 62 in 2011 equals:
90 percent of the first $749 of the worker's average monthly earnings;
plus 32 percent of any average monthly earnings between $749 and $4,517;
plus 15 percent of any average monthly covered earnings above that.
The dollar amounts of $749 (at which the 90 percent replacement rate ends and the 32 percent
replacement rate begins) and $4,517 (at which the 32 percent rate ends and the 15 percent rate
begins) are known as the program's "bend points." The placement of the "bend points" is adjusted
each year to reflect the change in average wages.
If a worker retires before the normal retirement age (currently 66), the monthly benefit is actuarially
reduced, whereas if the worker retires past the normal retirement age, the monthly benefit is
actuarially increased. Once a retiree’s initial Social Security benefit is established, the benefit level
is adjusted in each succeeding year for inflation. This guarantees that once an individual retires and
begins to draw benefits, that benefit level will retain the same purchasing power.
To see very clear examples of how benefits are calculated for two hypothetical retirees, go to:
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Gradually Raise the Amount of Income Subject to Payroll Taxes
Description of Recommendation: The payroll tax that funds Social Security is currently collected
on wage income only up to a maximum of $106,800 – a level that, under normal economic
conditions, encompasses about 83 percent of total national wages. This proposal will raise the cap
very gradually, over a 38-year period, to a level covering 90 percent of national earnings. At
current income levels, this would be equivalent to about $180,000. After reaching the 90 percent
target, the cap will be adjusted annually to maintain the 90 percent standard.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: In the 1977 amendments to the Social Security Act, Congress attempted to stabilize
the taxable share of covered earnings at the 90 percent level by raising the cap and then indexing
the dollar amount of the cap to average annual wage growth.44 Over the past quarter-century,
however, earnings at the top of the wage scale have grown much faster than average wages.45 As
a result, the share of earnings above the cap (and thus untaxed) has grown. This proposal, which
has been widely discussed in academic and political circles, will raise the cap to cover roughly its
intended percentage of earnings. Thereafter, adjusting the cap to maintain the 90 percent target
will protect the base for Social Security revenues against further deterioration.
Gradually raising the taxable earnings cap will make the payroll tax less regressive by placing the
additional tax burden entirely on the most affluent taxpayers. Upon retirement, however, these
beneficiaries will be partially reimbursed for their additional contributions through moderately
increased benefits. This principle – that workers get at least some return on all taxes paid in – has
been a bedrock of Social Security and should remain so.
As the baby boomer generation retires and America’s worker-to-retiree ratio falls substantially,
these additional revenues will help ensure that Social Security has the funds to endure as the
foundation for retirement for all American workers in their old age.
Geoffrey Kollmann, “Social Security: Summary of Major Changes in the Cash Benefits Program,” CRS Report for
Congress (Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service), RL30565, (May 2000),
Congressional Budget Office, Historical Effective Federal Tax Rates: 1979 to 2003 (Congressional Budget Office,
December 2005), http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/70xx/doc7000/12-29-FedTaxRates.pdf.
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Change to More Accurate Annual Cost-of-living Adjustment (COLA) Calculation
Description of Recommendation: The current measure of inflation used to calculate cost-ofliving adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security does not accurately capture changes in consumer
spending patterns, and it overstates overall inflation. This proposal will shift the calculation of
annual COLAs from the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers
(CPI-W) to the “chain-weighted” Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U), an
alternative measure of inflation developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The
Congressional Budget Office projects that per year, on average, the Chained CPI-U will grow an
estimated 0.3 percentage points more slowly than the CPI-W.
This COLA modification is a technical adjustment, and it is consistent with the proposals that the
Task Force makes for the annual indexing of income tax brackets and those for COLAs in other
mandatory government programs.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: As required by law, the Social Security Administration (SSA) adjusts recipients’
monthly benefits each year for inflation. Currently, the adjustment is based on the increase in the
CPI-W, which is calculated by the BLS. The CPI-W, however, can overstate inflation because it
does not fully account for changes in patterns of consumer spending. (For example, when the
price of apples goes up, people can reduce the impact by substituting oranges.) The
Chained CPI-U, by contrast, accounts for such changes in consumers’ purchasing patterns when
prices grow at different rates.
Because the CPI-W overstates inflation, this technical refinement will improve the accuracy of the
Social Security formula and help ensure that the program has the necessary funds to fulfill its
obligation to future beneficiaries. Unlike most other benefit adjustments that the Task Force
proposes, this one will apply to current beneficiaries as well as future ones.
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Slightly Reduce the Growth in Benefits for Roughly the Top One-quarter of Beneficiaries
Description of Recommendation: A balanced package of changes that guarantees the future
health of Social Security must make some adjustments to benefits as well as generate new
revenues. Beginning in 2023, this proposal will reduce the replacement percentage in the top
bracket of the benefit formula from 15 percent to 10 percent over a 30-year period. This proposal
will affect only about the top 25 percent of beneficiaries.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: This proposal will phase down the current 15 percent factor to 10 percent by 2052.
Thus, under this option (and momentarily ignoring that it will be phased in over time), the benefit
formula for an individual turning age 62 in 2011 will equal:
90 percent of the first $749 of the worker's average monthly earnings;
plus 32 percent of any average monthly earnings between $749 and $4,517;
plus 10 percent of any average monthly covered earnings above that.
This moderate reform is a particularly progressive change to the benefit structure, and will hold
harmless approximately the bottom 75 percent of beneficiaries. While not a major part of the
solution, the formula adjustment will help boost Social Security’s sustainability by reducing
program costs.
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Index the Benefit Formula for Longevity
Description of Recommendation: Life expectancies at older ages are rising in the United States
and other developed countries. This clearly positive development does, however, increase
spending under Social Security. Beginning in 2023 (after the scheduled increase of the normal
retirement age to 67 is completed), this proposal will adjust the benefit formula to improvements
in life expectancy. Specifically, the replacement rates used to calculate benefits each year for new
beneficiaries will be 99.7 percent of what they were in the previous year46 – which offsets about
two-thirds of the additional costs associated with estimated longevity increases.47
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: Average life spans have grown throughout American history and are expected to
continue growing in the years to come.48 People who turn 65 decades from now will, on average,
live longer (and thus collect more months of Social Security benefits) than those who turn 65 this
year. Thus, a commitment to give retirees a certain monthly benefit at age 65 in 2030 is more
costly than is that same commitment to today’s beneficiaries.
Current law, however, does not address this fundamental issue. Therefore, this proposal
marginally reduces the replacement rates for each successive cohort of beneficiaries, meaning that
retirees will receive very slightly smaller monthly benefits, but for longer periods of time.
Unlike the progressive benefit adjustment, retirees across the income distribution will be affected
by this modification for longer life expectancies. But, the updated special minimum benefit
(described below) will offset and supersede this effect for most lower-income beneficiaries who
have spent a sufficient number of years in the workforce.
The ongoing, gradual stretching out of benefits to account for longevity under this proposal will
not apply to recipients of DI benefits. However, once DI beneficiaries49 reach the normal
retirement age and begin to collect OASI benefits, they will be impacted – precluding any
additional long-term advantage50 from claiming disability benefits instead of old-age benefits.
This reflects the Social Security Actuaries’ estimates for longevity increases.
Specifically, the adjustment will be calculated based on the increase in life expectancy at age 67, and will be
designed to have the same actuarial effect as a specific retirement age change that keeps constant the ratio of years
after the normal retirement age to adult years up to the normal retirement age.
U.S. Census Bureau, Population Profile of the United States, http://www.census.gov/population/www/popprofile/natproj.html.
Under this proposal, upon reaching the normal retirement age, DI beneficiaries will have their benefits recalculated
under a blend of the current law and the longevity-adjusted formulas.
Under this proposal, a DI recipient who began collecting benefits just before reaching the normal retirement age
will collect a benefit similar to that which he would have received had he chosen to collect standard retirement
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Compensating for increasing life expectancies is the single most important step to ensure Social
Security’s sustainability for future generations. Essentially, indexing for longevity compensates
the Trust Fund for the aggregate life expectancy increase, but protects retirees from individual risk
by providing an annuitized benefit that is unaffected by how long they live. Indexing the benefit
formula for longevity, as opposed to increasing the age at which a worker can claim benefits,
importantly will retain the option to retire at age 62 for those who are unable to work longer, while
at the same time, keeping the program sustainable.
benefits – thus, there will be little incentive for workers to file for DI benefits late in their careers simply in an attempt
to exploit the system.
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Expand Social Security Coverage to Newly Hired State and Local Workers
Description of Recommendation: About 96 percent of all workers contribute Social Security
payroll taxes and are eligible for benefits upon retirement. The largest group of workers that is not
covered consists of about one-quarter (5.7 million in 2007) of state and local government
employees. Unlike private-sector workers and some public-sector workers, these employees are
not required to enroll in the system. This proposal will require that all newly hired employees of
state and local governments after 2020 be covered under Social Security. Additionally, the
proposal will require state and local pension plans to share data with the SSA until the transition is
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: In 1986, Congress enacted legislation to cover – under Medicare, but not Social
Security – the new hires of all state and local governments. Today, many government employees
remain outside of the Social Security system, instead relying on their public retirement pension
programs for income security upon retirement.
Incorporating these new government employees reflects the goal of increasing the universality of
Social Security, which was pursued throughout the second half of the 20th century. Placing them
in the system will provide better disability and survivor insurance protection for many workers
who move between government employment and other jobs.
Due to the poor fiscal condition of state and local governments, and the significant underfunding
of public employee pensions, the effective date of this proposal will be delayed until 2020. This
grace period will give governments time to shore up and reform their pension systems. Over the
long run, covering all of their employees under Social Security could help states and localities get
their fiscal houses in order through transitioning to more sustainable pension programs.
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Update the Special Minimum Benefit and Protect the Most Vulnerable Elderly
Description of Recommendation: Social Security’s special minimum benefit is outdated because
it was not indexed to wages. Starting in 2012, this proposal will update the special minimum
benefit to 133 percent of the federal poverty level for retirees with at least 30 years of creditable
In addition to long-term lower-wage workers, one of the other most vulnerable retiree categories
consists of workers who outlive their savings and face increasing medical costs in old age. This
proposal will address that issue by providing beneficiaries with a modest benefit bump –
equivalent to 1 percent of the average worker’s monthly benefit amount – in each year between
ages 81 and 85.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: Social Security began to provide the special minimum benefit in 1972 to raise
benefits for people who had low earnings over a long working lifetime. The concept behind it was
similar to the principle behind Social Security itself: Americans who have contributed to the
economy with a full career should be protected and kept free from poverty in retirement.
Unfortunately, the minimum benefit is now outdated. The original minimum level was indexed to
prices, whereas benefits under the standard Social Security formula are indexed to earnings.
Because earnings have grown faster than prices over the years, the standard benefits have risen in
real terms while the minimum has not, and the minimum benefit no longer provides any additional
support to lower-income retirees. Moreover, the standard Social Security formula has consistently
failed to provide decent assistance for career minimum-wage earners; in fact, their benefits put
them below the poverty line.
Updating the minimum benefit will reinforce the program for many retirees in the bottom half of
the earnings distribution who will have contributed their labor to society for many years.
Additional consideration will be given to long-term workers who take time out of their careers to
care for young children. Providing these retirees with a reasonable level of assistance also will
help support their successful transition into the reformed Medicare system.
The revised special minimum benefit will ensure that a long-term low earner is eligible for a benefit equal to 133
percent of the federal poverty level (about $1,200 per month) at the normal retirement age. Earnings required for a
year of qualifying coverage will remain at 20 percent of the “old-law” taxable maximum ($15,880 in 2010), but a
creditable year will be worth $40 per month (i.e., 30 years * $40 = $1,200/mo.), rather than approximately $25 under
current law. The credit will be indexed to average wage growth rather than prices. A maximum of 30 years of
qualifying coverage can be applied, a minimum of 20 years will be required, and up to eight years of caring for a child
under age six can be classified as a qualifying year.
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Retirees who live the longest comprise another segment of the Social Security population that
warrants particular attention. The percentage of elderly people in poverty rises with age, and the
problem is especially prevalent among older women. Many elderly Americans outlive their
savings and find it hard to survive on Social Security benefits alone. Older retirees tend to rely on
benefits for an increasing proportion of their retirement income. With an eroding savings base and
rising medical costs, seniors who live in retirement for many years often find themselves near or
below the poverty line.
This proposal will provide a supplemental benefit bump to Social Security’s older recipients. This
benefit increase also will be progressive: a uniform dollar amount across the wage distribution.
As such, the adjustment will help all retirees and give adequate support to older, low-income
beneficiaries who are most in need.
In the coming years, targeted measures of assistance could lift hundreds of thousands of
Americans out of poverty in retirement. By increasing the robustness of the special minimum
benefit for long-term lower-wage workers and by protecting vulnerable Social Security
beneficiaries through a benefit bump, this package will seal some emerging cracks in the
program’s foundation, guaranteeing that the system continues to provide a good standard of living
in old-age for all working Americans.
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Require the Social Security Administration to Inform Recipients More Fully
about the Costs and Benefits of Taking Early Retirement
Description of Recommendation:52 Over half of American workers declare retirement and begin
collecting Social Security benefits at age 62, the earliest eligibility age.53 The Task Force believes
that retirees have not sufficiently heeded the warnings from the SSA about the disadvantages of
early retirement – most importantly, reduced benefits for the rest of the retiree’s life. This
proposal will direct the SSA to highlight the benefits of delayed retirement. Other efforts should
improve the ability of older workers to stay in their jobs or transition to less strenuous
Background: The nation faces a significant problem: A large share of its workers continues to
claim reduced Social Security benefits as early as age 62, even as they can expect to live longer.
A much higher share of Americans retire before age 63 today than in 1970.54 Though many
manual laborers surely face physical difficulties in working past that age, there is no sound
justification as to why such a large number of U.S. workers overall are retiring so early. Reasons
may include a lack of accurate information or patterns of behavior that have become so widely
practiced that Americans are quicker to repeat them than analyze their impact.
Reversing this trend will require identifying and addressing some of these factors. Among the
most significant is that many workers do not realize or do not properly weigh the lasting
advantage to delaying retirement. Each additional year in the workforce translates to higher Social
Security benefits each month, regardless of how long the worker lives. Years later, this benefit
boost could mean the difference between poverty and a more comfortable lifestyle. Yet workers
appear to be making uninformed or uncalculated decisions for reasons that are not clear.
This proposal directs SSA to revise aggressively its communications and messaging around the
retirement choice. The material provided to workers during their careers about the retirement
decision must more clearly show the implications of collecting benefits at different ages. It must
highlight the permanent financial consequences of this choice, not only for workers, but for
spouses and survivors as well. In particular, SSA should remind workers of uncertainties in
retirement, such as potential health-care costs and the possibility that they may live for many years
after retiring.
Furthermore, the SSA should consider providing more potent warning measures that every Social
Security participant will notice. The periodic Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement
(PEBES) sent to every worker should more emphatically state that delayed retirements are far
This proposal is not credited with scoreable savings, but the behavioral impacts could well produce additional
revenues and higher economic growth.
John Turner, Promoting Work: Implications of Raising Social Security’s Retirement Age, Center for Retirement
Research at Boston College, Boston College, MA, http://crr.bc.edu/images/stories/Briefs/wob_12.pdf.
Congressional Budget Office, Historical Effective Federal Tax Rates: 1979 to 2003 (Congressional Budget Office,
December 2005), http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/70xx/doc7000/12-29-FedTaxRates.pdf.
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more generous on a monthly basis. Another possibility is renaming Social Security’s “Early
Eligibility Age” as, for instance, the “Reduced Benefit Early Option.” SSA could require a
signature on a boldly printed statement of understanding (acknowledging the enduring reduction
in monthly benefits) from workers who choose to begin collecting before the normal retirement
Along with raising awareness, a second component of encouraging longer working lives must be
policies that ameliorate the difficulties of many older workers. They could include a greater focus
on retraining programs for workers who can no longer perform their professions (e.g., some
manual laborers), or who find themselves out of work in their later years.
This combination of education and functional approaches will give workers the flexibility to
continue making their own choices about retirement, but with the information and incentives to
make prudent decisions. The Task Force believes that policies influencing behavior are preferable
to those that force people to delay retirement.
Any package to address the long-term solvency of Social Security should contribute to the broader
national goal of economic growth. For this reason, encouraging longer working lives is one of the
most important components of the Task Force plan. With workers spending more years in the
labor force, production will rise and more retirees will have adequate savings and standards of
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Freeze Domestic Discretionary Spending
Domestic discretionary spending, also called “non-defense discretionary,” refers to non-defense
programs that Congress funds through annual decisions in the appropriations process. The
programs include, for instance, law enforcement, education, homeland security, environmental
protection, transportation, national parks, disaster relief, food and drug inspection, and medical
research. While funding many of the essential functions of government, domestic discretionary
spending constitutes less than one-fifth of the federal budget.
While domestic discretionary spending is not driving America’s debt crisis (having declined in
recent decades as a share of total federal spending), it nevertheless offers potential for budget
savings by reducing duplicative and outmoded programs and ensuring that spending goes to the
most needed and effective programs.
Domestic Discretionary Spending
Reduced to Historic Lows as Percent of GDP
Baseline vs. Bipartisan Plan
% of GDP
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Description of Recommendation: This proposal will freeze total domestic discretionary spending
– except for emergency spending (certified as emergencies by the President and Congress) – in
nominal terms for four years. This is a daunting challenge; the freeze will require that all of the
costs associated with inflation, the growth and aging of the population, the growth in veterans’
health care, the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure, and any emerging needs must be absorbed
within a total domestic budget that does not rise in nominal dollars for four years. Meeting this
target will require terminating ineffective programs, reducing other programs,55 imposing new fees
to cover program costs, and adopting new financial and other management reforms to generate
The freeze will be enforced through statutory spending caps (as explained below in the section on
budget enforcement). Spending that exceeds the statutory caps will trigger automatic across-theboard cuts in all domestic discretionary programs to eliminate the excess amounts. Following the
four-year freeze period, domestic discretionary spending will be allowed to rise at the rate of
growth of GDP, a limit that also will be enforced through statutory caps.
Annual Appropriations Reduction (Budget Authority) in Billions of Dollars
and Percentage Reduction in each of the Freeze Years:*
* Compared to a baseline that grows with GDP.
Task Force Member Ed McElroy would like to see education and infrastructure protected within domestic
discretionary spending.
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Non-Defense Discretionary Budget Authority
Baseline vs. Bipartisan Plan
Billions of $
Baseline Non-Defense Discretionary Budget Authority (Grows with GDP)
4-Year Hard Freeze (2012-2015)
Cumulative Budget Savings (Outlays) in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:*
Note: Budgetary savings continue to accrue after the four-year freeze period because
adjustments for GDP growth post-2015 are based on a starting point of $574 billion instead of
$709 billion (see the graph above).
* Compared to a baseline that grows with GDP.
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Background: Domestic discretionary spending consists of all programs that are annually funded
through appropriations bills, and Congress sets funding levels each year. This annual review is
contrasted with “mandatory” spending – most of which consists of entitlement programs – where
the law that created the program spells out a funding formula that is effectively on auto-pilot until
Congress steps in and changes the program.
For example, Social Security is a “mandatory program” because benefits are paid according to a
statutory formula that entitles beneficiaries to payments based on a formula tied to years worked
and income levels. By contrast, funding for the operations of the Social Security Administration
are “discretionary,” that is, Congress decides each year how much funding to provide through the
appropriations process.
“Domestic” discretionary spending refers to all discretionary spending that is non-defense.
Domestic discretionary includes international affairs programs and homeland security programs.
Following is an overview of the larger domestic discretionary programs, with FY 2010 funding
levels (rounded to the nearest billion). These are the programs that appropriators will need to scour
for budget savings in order live within a freeze – which means absorbing the costs of inflation, the
costs of a growing and aging population, growing homeland security needs, growing veterans’
health costs due to the wars, as well as addressing the enormous backlog of infrastructure needs.
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Domestic Discretionary Spending Programs Funded at Over $1 Billion per year in FY 2010
Budget Function
(Category of
Program or Program Categories
FY 2010
Budget Authority
(rounded to nearest
International Affairs
International Development and Humanitarian Assistance
International Security Assistance
Conduct of Foreign Affairs
Foreign Information and Exchange Activities
General Science, Space and Technology
National Science Foundation (funds basic research)
Dept. of Energy Science Programs
Dept. of Homeland Security Science & Technology
Energy Supply (fossil, nuclear, renewable, etc.)
Natural Resources and Environment
Corps of Engineers Water Projects
Bureau of Reclamation (dams, hydroelectric, water)
Forest Service
Management of Public Lands
Conservation Operations
Fish and Wildlife Service
Recreational Resources
Farm Income Stabilization
Research and Education
Animal and Plant Inspection
Commerce and Housing Credit
Small and Minority Business Assistance
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Airports and Airways (FAA)
TSA (however, much of this is offset by security fees)
Marine Safety and Transportation
Community and Regional Development
Community Development
Rural Development
Indian Programs
Disaster Relief
FEMA State and Local Grants
Disaster Assistance Grants
Education, Training, Employment, and Social Services
Title 1 Grants for Schools in High Poverty Areas
Impact Aid Replacing Lost Revenues from Federal
$32 billion
$6 billion
$16 billion
$2 billion
$7 billion
$5 billion
$1 billion
$18 billion
$3 billion
$5 billion
$1 billion
$5 billion
$1 billion
$1 billion
$2 billion
$3 billion
$10 billion
$2 billion
$2 billion
$1 billion
$1 billion
$1 billion
$27 billion (in FY 2009)
$12 billion
$5 billion
$8 billion
$4 billion
$1 billion
$2 billion
$5 billion
$4 billion
$1 billion
$16 billion
$1 billion
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Education, Training, Employment, and Social Services (cont.)
School Improvement Programs
Special Education for Children w/ Disabilities (IDEA)
Vocational and Adult Education
Indian Education
Innovation and Improvement, Charter Schools
Higher Education Including Student Aid
Library of Congress, CPB, Smithsonian, Other
Training and Employment Services
AmeriCorps, Senior Service Corps, Learn & Serve
Children, Family, and Aging Services
Health (Other than Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP)
Substance Abuse, Mental Health Services, SAMHSA
Indian Health
Community Health Centers
Ryan White AIDS Grants
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institutes of Health (basic research)
Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA)
Occupational and Mine Safety and Health
Food and Drug Administration
Social Security and Medicare (Administrative Costs)
Medicare Administrative Costs and Fraud Control
Social Security Administrative Costs
Income Security
Unemployment Insurance: Administrative Expenses
Rental Housing Assistance (Section 8)
Public Housing
Homeless Assistance
WIC: Nutrition for Women, Infants, Children
Other Nutrition Programs
Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP)
Child Care Block Grant
Veterans’ Benefits and Services
Veterans’ Health Care
VA Administration
Law Enforcement, Prisons, Administration of Justice
Criminal Investigations (FBI, DEA, and DHS)
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
Border and Transportation Security
Secret Service
Federal Litigation and Judicial Activities
Federal Prison System
State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance
Legislative, Executive Branches
House, Senate, GAO, Library of Congress, GPO
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
Other (including White House and DC Government)
$5 billion
$13 billion
$2 billion
$1 billion
$5 billion
$5 billion
$4 billion
$8 billion
$1 billion
$11 billion
$3 billion
$4 billion
$2 billion
$2 billion
$6 billion
$31 billion
$1 billion
$1 billion
$2 billion
$6 billion
$6 billion
$4 billion
$27 billion
$7 billion
$2 billion
$7 billion
$1 billion
$5 billion
$2 billion
$47 billion
$6 billion
$6 billion
$1 billion
$18 billion
$1 billion
$11 billion
$8 billion
$2 billion
$4 billion
$12 billion
$4 billion
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Domestic Discretionary Spending Distribution by Budget Function:
Social Security
Health, Admin
Nutrition, Low
Prisons, DOJ
Branches, DC
Health and NIH
Science, Space,
Social Services
Nat. Resources,
The Four-Year Freeze
Although a four-year
year freeze might, on the surface, not seem very difficult to sus
tain, this proposal
is daunting for several reasons.
Population Growth
A key challenge to living within a freeze is that our population is expected to grow by 15 million
over the next five years (to 326 million by 2015). More kids will be in high school, more
entrepreneurs will be filing for patents, and more people will be seeking benefits such as housing
and nutrition assistance.
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An Aging Population
The number of people receiving Social Security and Medicare is expected to grow from 53 million
in 2010 to 61 million in 2015. As a result, the costs of operating Social Security and Medicare –
programs that are administered through discretionary spending – will grow by hundreds of
millions. These additional costs will have to be absorbed under the annual caps.
Infrastructure Needs
Highway passenger miles are expected to grow significantly over the next five years. Moreover,
the Federal Highway Administration already estimates a current backlog of $381 billion in
necessary improvements to our roads and bridges.
Similarly in public transportation, the Department of Transportation (DOT) expects almost 800
million additional transit rides in 2015 compared to 2010. The Department completed an
assessment of the nation’s transit systems this year and concluded that the industry faces a backlog
of $80 billion to restore a state of good repair. Freeing up funds to invest in America’s future will
require tough choices in other areas of discretionary spending.
Veterans’ Health Care
Another major challenge is the rapidly growing cost of veterans’ health care, which has risen from
$24 billion to $41 billion, or 71 percent, over the last five years. Since veterans’ health care is
funded through a domestic discretionary program, this very rapid cost growth either must be
slowed, or other domestic programs will have to be cut.
Absorbing Inflation under a Budget Freeze
Costs associated with inflation also must be accommodated within the four-year freeze. Inflation
is projected to grow at close to 2 percent per year between 2012 and 2015, according to the
Congressional Budget Office. This decline in purchasing power must be addressed within
individual program budgets, or else by reducing other domestic discretionary programs.
Maintaining America’s Leadership Abroad
Finally, a four-year freeze must accommodate the rising costs associated with maintaining
America’s diplomatic leadership abroad through diplomacy and support for allies and partners, as
well as assistance in strengthening fragile states.
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The Freeze Requires Tough Decisions and Prioritizing Expenditures
Taken together, the challenges outlined above will require policymakers to take a hard look at the
functions of our government and evaluate priorities and programs on a prudent basis. Living
under the freeze will necessitate a combination of terminating lower priority, duplicative, or
ineffective programs; reducing funding for other programs; imposing new fees to cover some
program costs; and adopting new financial and other management reforms to generate savings.
Although difficult decisions will have to be made, this debt reduction plan presents the country
with an opportunity to restructure our spending and make our government more efficient.
Appendix D includes, for illustrative purposes only, a list of programs that the current or previous
administrations or the Congressional Budget Office have recommended for consolidation,
termination, or reduction.
Despite the disproportionate amount of political rhetoric that is devoted to congressional earmarks,
they comprise less than 1 percent of total discretionary spending. Adhering to a domestic
discretionary freeze will require far more than simply eliminating earmarks.56 The caps will call
for an honest determination of ineffective and overly costly programs that are in need of
modification or elimination.
Appendix E includes, for illustrative purposes only, examples of fees that could be considered by
policymakers. New or higher fees for the services that an agency or program provides is another
way to meet the constraints of a four-year freeze. Higher fees, in effect, allow for a cut in a
program’s annual appropriation, or allow for a program to accommodate growing demands due to
population growth, inflation, or an increasing need for services.
Most members of the Task Force also support a two-year civilian pay freeze57 to help live within
the discretionary cap. A serious debt reduction plan will require a modest amount of shared
sacrifice from all Americans, and the federal government must show that it too is tightening its
belt and is not exempt from the mission.
In fact, eliminating earmarks as a stand-alone policy produces zero savings. Earmarks are requested and
appropriated after the annual discretionary spending allocations have already been established. Therefore, if an
earmark is eliminated in the budget process, the funds simply revert to the allocation available for appropriation in that
fiscal year.
Task Force Member Ed McElroy does not support a civilian pay freeze.
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Management Reforms to Achieve Budget Savings
The following are examples of management reforms that agencies could use to offset the costs of
inflation and population growth during the freeze period.
Investigate the Application of State and Local Best Practices: A number of state
initiatives – including the Empower Kentucky program, the statewide revenue
transformation in Florida, and the transformation of human services in Texas – have used
management reform techniques to achieve significant cost savings. The Massachusetts
state government saved funds by integrating the delivery of services. The City of Toronto
Amalgamation Project yielded annual savings of an estimated $153 million per year by
eliminating 35 percent of existing management positions.
Modernize the Regional Structure: There are significant opportunities to reorganize and
scale down the federal regional government structure. The regional structure was created
when technologies and communication capabilities were much different than today, under
a philosophy that close proximity to the states allowed federal staff to more readily travel
to the states as a federal overseer. The structure remains the same, even though almost all
of those conditions have changed.
Shared Services: There is no reason why each and every major agency needs its own
financial system, human resources system, procurement system, contracting operation,
budgeting system, etc. A number of states have implemented comprehensive shared
services programs, under which one organization that performs a business process
particularly well is authorized to perform that service on behalf of all agencies. Such a
process enables states to achieve economies of scale, while spreading best practices across
the state enterprise.
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Freeze Defense Spending
The United States today remains the world’s foremost military power and will continue to be so in
the foreseeable future. Over the past decade, U.S. defense spending has grown with few fiscal
constraints, reaching roughly $700 billion a year, a sum virtually equal to the defense spending of
all other countries combined. Such growth is no longer possible, however, as the nation faces
increasingly pressing problems of economic recovery alongside unprecedented debts and deficits.
As Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has noted, today the U.S. debt
is the “single-biggest threat to our national security.”58
The Defense Department and its secretary, Robert Gates, have begun to recognize the need for
greater fiscal discipline. While Secretary Gates continues to seek real growth in the defense
budget, he has begun a process of terminating some investment programs, closing the Joint Forces
Command and two other agencies, reducing spending on support contracting, lowering the number
of flag officers, freezing some civilian personnel levels, and reforming the acquisition process.
The Task Force welcomes all of these steps, but believes that discipline in defense spending will
need to go further in order to help meet the broader goal of reducing the federal deficit and
controlling the debt. Therefore, this plan recommends that defense resources be frozen at FY
2011 levels for the succeeding five years and then limited to growth at the rate of the economy
Achieving this goal will require going well beyond the Gates efficiencies. The Task Force
believes that the Pentagon is capable of setting the priorities needed to make these decisions while
ensuring that the U.S. military remains a globally superior force well into the foreseeable future.
Now is the optimal time to make these choices, as the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are
beginning to end, therefore allowing the U.S. to make new decisions about the range of its global
military missions and priorities. And, as with all countries, the U.S. has to meet both its military
and economic security needs by making choices and living within fiscal constraints.
The attached options for defense planning and budgeting illustrate the choices that might be made
and the priorities that could be set to meet this five-year cap. The potential package is designed to
ensure that the U.S. continues to field a first class, globally unsurpassed force, while living within
its financial means. Not everyone will agree with all of these illustrative options, but we believe
they are worthy of consideration as steps that any defense planner will need to consider in order to
maintain both optimal military capabilities and fiscal discipline.
Adm. Michael Mullen, “JCS Speech at Detroit Economic Club Luncheon,” [Remarks at the Detroit Marriot at the
Renaissance Center, Detroit, August 26, 2010], http://www.jcs.mil/speech.aspx?ID=1445.
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Defense Spending is Reduced to 2000 Levels*
Baseline vs. Bipartisan Plan
% of GDP
*As a percent of GDP
Should these options be implemented, the remaining U.S. military forces would continue to be
superior in technology, capability, and size to those of any other country, and continue to be
capable of military operations on a global basis.59 The United States still would be the only nation
able to patrol the world’s oceans, deploy hundreds of thousands of ground forces to any point on
the globe, and dominate the global airspace with superior combat fighters, long-range bombers,
and unmanned aircraft. Supporting this overwhelming force, the U.S. would retain the world’s
only global military transportation, communications, logistics, and intelligence capabilities.
At roughly 60,000, U.S. special operations forces alone would be larger than the militaries of more
than half the world’s countries. More broadly, the U.S.’ entire post-reform active duty force of
1.21 million would be larger than the forces of any other country except for China and India.60
Unsurpassed technological capabilities and budgets would enable this force. In FY 2009, U.S.
military research and development spending alone exceeded China’s entire defense budget, the
China and India would have larger ground forces than the U.S., but significantly smaller air and naval forces and no
global reach.
For U.S. special operations force numbers, see page 3 of Special Operations Commander (SOCOM) ADM Eric
Olson’s testimony before the House Armed Services Committee from March 17, 2010. ADM Olson describes
growing his force by 4.7 percent, or 2,700 troops, allowing for the computation that the FY 2011 force will top
60,000. For world troop numbers, see The Military Balance 2010: The annual assessment of global military
capabilities and defense economics, The International Institute for Strategic Studies (London: Routledge, 2010).
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world’s second largest, by $10.5 billion.61 And post-reform U.S. defense outlays, at $628 billion
in FY 2018, would exceed (in real terms) U.S. defense outlays at any point during the Cold War,
be it the 1968 peak (5.5 percent higher) or the peacetime average (50 percent higher).
Setting mission priorities and accounting for the fiscally constrained environment must be a part
of defense planning discipline. After the kind of force and budgetary restructuring that we discuss
here, the Task Force believes that the U.S. would have a military tailored to meet the priority
missions that it will be asked to perform after the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan conclude. The
options described here are based on an evaluation of the strategic and military risks that the U.S.
might face in the future. The illustrative package gives top priority to counter-terror and cybersecurity operations, and assigns significant priority to deterrence and reassurance, sea patrol,
humanitarian relief, and peacekeeping. Conversely, the options assign low priority in the future to
counterinsurgency, stabilization, and governance. The plan also provides a sizable and important
hedge for conventional combat and strengthens the military “tooth” (combat forces) relative to the
support “tail.” Setting these priorities allows for a reduction of 275,000 in the active duty force.
Approximately 1.21 million troops would remain – a large, modern, and more deployable force
than any other country in the world.
This force would be armed with technology surpassing that of any other country, at sea, in the air,
in space, or on land. The tough choices to terminate or delay several investments would focus on
programs that provide an excessive hedge for potential adversaries or are significantly
underperforming relative to expectations. Investment priorities could include deferring or
terminating such programs as the F-35 fighter jet, V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, Virginia Class
submarine, and ballistic missile defense, even while the U.S. retains substantial and superior
capabilities in all of these areas. In addition, investment in non-major military procurement and
research and development would decline in proportion to the changed end strength, but still leave
in place significant budgets.
The options described below also begin to tackle two of the most difficult management and
spending issues that the Pentagon faces: health care and military retirement (addressed under “Cut
Spending in Other Programs”). Both benefits are very attractive to service-members, but their
exponentially increasing costs are posing growing fiscal dilemmas to the Department, as Secretary
Gates has repeatedly pointed out. Defense retirement and health care reforms have been discussed
without action for years, but may be more feasible in the context of the broader health care and
retirement reforms that the Task Force suggests. Hence, these options include reforming cost
U.S. Research and Development, Test, and Evaluations (RDT&E) outlays in FY 2009 totaled $80.78 billion. After
the U.S., China had the world’s largest defense budget in 2009, totaling $70.3 billion. The year 2009 is used as a
reference point because data on world military spending for 2010 is not yet available. See “National Defense Budget
Estimates for FY 2011 (Green Book),” Department of Defense: Table 6-11; Military Balance 2010: The annual
assessment of global military capabilities and defense economics, The International Institute for Strategic Studies
(London: Routledge, 2010): p. 398.
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sharing for the Pentagon’s health insurance system (TRICARE) and transitioning from the current
military retirement system to one more similar to that in which federal civil servants participate.
The illustrative package also proposes management reform in the intelligence world that would
maintain intelligence capabilities at a reduced cost by utilizing the newly-granted authority for the
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to eliminate duplication and increase efficiency.
Finally, the options accept the efficiency savings already announced by Secretary Gates. Rather
than returning those savings to the services to increase funding for forces and investment as the
Secretary proposes, this option would include them in the overall effort of deficit reduction.
Any attempt to discipline defense resources or lower the defense budget will be criticized by some
as reducing America’s defenses in a dangerous world. The Task Force believes that the options
suggested here do no such thing. They are designed to tailor defense capabilities to acceptable
levels of risk in the world after our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan conclude. The reforms
would leave a globally superior military force in place, while reshaping that force consistent with
our resources.
Mission priorities and the goal of efficient and effective management shape these options. The
Pentagon has a history of managing such a reduction, most recently in the period from 1989 to
1998, when deficit reduction efforts and a major global transition (the end of the Cold War)
coincided. Over those years, national defense spending fell 28 percent in constant dollars, the
active duty force shrank by more than 700,000, the force structure was consolidated, the defense
civilian workforce dropped by over 300,000, and procurement budgets fell in excess of 50
percent.62 Though some criticized the result, the force that emerged from successful Pentagon
management remained globally superior: capable of two major deployments that targeted regime
changes. The military’s technology remained dominant and its global deployability was clear.
The Task Force believes that the coming transition can be equally well-managed.
Office of Management and Budget Historical Table 3-1 (deflated per Table 10-1); “National Defense Budget
Estimates for FY 2011 (Green Book),” Department of Defense: Tables 6-11 & 7-5.
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Description of Recommendation: Freeze defense discretionary spending beginning in 2012 for
five years and cap at GDP thereafter. The freeze level assumes that the number of troops deployed
in Iraq and Afghanistan, or in other war-related activities, falls to 30,000 by 2013.63 Within this
capped level of spending, policymakers will have to set priorities. As one illustrative example, the
defense department could live within the capped level of spending with the following set of
Reduce active duty end strength by 275,000, of which 92,000 would come from
reversing the ground force buildup of the past 10 years, 80,000 would come from
withdrawing additional U.S. forces in Western Europe and East Asia, and 100,000
would come from eliminating infrastructure positions held by uniformed personnel
in the Department of Defense.
Cancel or defer certain major hardware programs, and reduce funding for minor
procurement and research and development.
Maintain intelligence capabilities (funded in the defense budget) at a reduced cost
by utilizing the newly-granted authority for the Director of National Intelligence
(DNI) to eliminate duplication and increase efficiency.
Impose greater cost sharing in military health care (TRICARE).
Apply Secretary Gates’ proposed efficiency savings to overall spending discipline
rather than reprogramming to other spending.
Annual Appropriations Reduction (Budget Authority) in Billions of Dollars
and Percentage Reduction in each of the Freeze Years:*
*Compared to a baseline that grows with GDP, and assumes that troops
deployed for overseas combat operations are reduced to 30,000 by 2013.
“The Budget and Economic Outlook: FY 2010-2020,” Congressional Budget Office, January 2010: Table 1-5.
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Defense Discretionary Budget Authority
Baseline vs. Bipartisan Plan
Billions of $
Defense Baseline Budget Authority (grows with GDP, troop levels reduced to 30,000 by 2013)
5-year Hard Freeze (2012-2016)
Note: The (green) path of defense appropriations during the freeze years reflects CBO’s
assumption that the number of troops deployed for overseas combat operations are reduced to
30,000 by 2013.64
Cumulative Budget Savings (Outlays)* in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
*Compared to a baseline that grows with GDP, and assumes that troops deployed for
certain overseas combat operations are reduced to 30,000 by 2013.
Under this assumption, “future funding for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere would total $134 billion in
2011, $70 billion in 2012, $39 billion in 2013, $29 billion in 2014, and then about $25 billion from 2015 on – for a
total of $416 billion over the 2011-2020 period.” Congressional Budget Office, The Budget and Economic Outlook:
An Update, August 2010, p. 25.
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Streamline Military End Strength
The Defense Department’s recent strategic planning has expanded U.S. military missions without
setting priorities or calculating the extent to which varying degrees of risk should be tolerated.65
This widening mission scope has led to increases in active duty end strength and, because that end
strength is the central driver of defense budget planning, it has also led to higher spending. Thus,
limits on resources will need to focus, in part, on the size of the force. Planning and budgetary
priority should be given to those missions that are urgent, probable, consequential, and achievable.
This option gives priority to forces that are needed to confront pressing asymmetric threats
(especially the Al Qaeda network and cyber-security); to provide for U.S. security through
deterrence, reassurance, sea lane patrols, and support to civil authorities; and to contribute to
international peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations. The illustrative proposal gives low
priority to counterinsurgency and stabilization missions on the basis that the U.S. will choose them
less often, and to governance missions because they are not an appropriate function for the
military. The option additionally shrinks the U.S. posture for conventional combat operations
based on the projection that the U.S. will face a low conventional threat in the visible future and
on the assessment that the U.S. will retain adequate forces to deal with such contingencies even
after the suggested reductions.
Today’s active duty military force consists of 1.48 million service-members.66 Of these, 92,000
are soldiers or Marines added during the combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and justified
based on these wars.67 Another 136,083 personnel are serving in a peacetime capacity at
permanent overseas stations, principally in Western Europe and East Asia.68 The United States’
deployed forces and others engaged in inherently military tasks are supported by 500,000 servicemembers in infrastructure positions, including, for example, 85,000 troops in the health
profession, 57,000 in personnel administration, and 43,000 in departmental management.69
This option would reduce the active duty end strength by 275,000 to a total of 1.21 million,
including a reduction of 100,000 infrastructure positions, bringing the U.S.’ ratio between the
military “tooth” and its “tail” closer to that of other major militaries.70 Another 80,000 would be
drawn down from U.S. forces in Western Europe and East Asia. This reduction would restructure
Quadrennial Defense Review,” Department of Defense, February 1, 2010: pp. 89-95.
“National Defense Budget Estimates for FY 2011 (Green Book),” Department of Defense: Table 7-5.
Bush, George W. “State of the Union Address,” January 23, 2007. The troops included in this increase began
entering the service in FY 2002 via temporary positions approved above the legislated end strength, but have since
been authorized as part of the force.
“Base Structure Report: FY 2009 Baseline,” Department of Defense: p. 94.
“Defense Manpower Requirements Report for FY 2010,” Defense Department: Table 2-1.
Gebicke, Scott and Samuel Magid. “Lessons from around the world: Benchmarking performance in defense,”
McKinsey & Company, Spring 2010: Exhibit 3.
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U.S. overseas forces toward East Asia, taking the larger share of the reduction in Germany, Italy,
and the U.K. (50,000, or 71 percent of the current deployment) and the smaller share in Japan and
South Korea (30,000, or 50 percent of the current deployment). The military status of Western
Europe makes a smaller presence possible, while current indigenous military capabilities in Asia
are adequate for security needs. A rollback of the 92,000-person increase in ground forces that
was justified based on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which are winding down, would
bring the total reduction to 275,000.71 This drawdown could take place gradually and evenly over
five years.
Prioritize Defense Investment
The following options for defense investments (weapons systems and research and development)
recommend considering cancellation or deferral of certain major hardware programs, as well as
reductions in the Defense Department’s currently projected investment in minor procurement and
research and development. The Department’s resources instead would be focused on the same
mission priorities cited above, emphasizing equipment needed to confront asymmetric threats,
provide for U.S. security, and contribute to global public goods. Equipment used for
counterinsurgency, stabilization, and governance, meanwhile, would be somewhat curtailed. The
recommendations below also scrutinize programs for capabilities that might exceed the needs for a
mission, that are unduly costly for the capacity they deliver, or that have manifestly failed to fulfill
performance expectations.
Each of the illustrative divestments identified here can be seen as an overinvestment for the
mission of major conventional war, and many of the funding reductions could be justified on
multiple grounds. In virtually every category of military technology, U.S. capabilities far exceed
those of any other country in the world, including China. Indeed, in most areas, the U.S. appears
to be in a race only with itself. A slow-down in this pursuit is justified by current global security
conditions, where the significant challenges are asymmetrical, rather than conventional.
Major hardware procurement savings could accrue from canceling the Medium Extended Air
Defense System (MEADS; theater missile defense), an Army surveillance blimp (JLENS), the V22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, the Marine Corp’s amphibious expeditionary fighting vehicle (EFV),
and the F-35 fighter jet.72 Additional savings could include deferring Virginia-class attack
submarines and halving funding for research on national missile defense.73 Other alternatives
In addition, another 1,250 troops would return from permanent stations elsewhere in the world (32 percent of the
deployment). End strength would be reduced further in proportion to possible terminations of JFCOM, proposed by
Secretary Gates, and the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa.
For information on the Iraq withdrawal, see Article 24 of the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (November 17,
2008). For Afghanistan, see Presidential Address at the United States Military Academy (December, 1 2009).
For the purpose of this analysis, “major hardware” is defined as the equipment listed in the December 2009 Selected
Acquisition Report that was delivered to Congress (pp. 21-23).
All of the major hardware divestments listed here are for illustrative purposes only and do not constitute specific
endorsements of programmatic cuts by the Task Force. They are provided based on the following justifications:
MEADS: MEADS is a multilateral program for theater missile defense funded with Germany and Italy. The project,
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surely could complement this list or substitute for items on it, but these programs deserve special
attention and amply demonstrate the feasibility of investment reductions.
Significant savings also could be obtained by lower funding for two other leading categories of
defense investment: minor procurement and research and development. Sixty percent of the
procurement budget is consumed by minor equipment and services that cover, among other items,
the kit that individual troops use in the field. Some service contracting to support troops also is
funded through these accounts. Because these goods and services are directly linked to forces and
their operations, minor procurements fluctuate with the size of the force.
Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) funding is the source of military
technological innovation. Funds are allocated according to the level of effort that the Department
wants to maintain. RDT&E budgets have increased significantly, from $49.2 billion in FY 2001
to $80.2 billion in FY 2010 (a 63 percent increase).74
This option would reduce minor equipment/services procurement and RDT&E proportionally to
the reduction in the size of the forces, or 18.5 percent. This level reflects the lower demand for
minor equipment/services that results from reduced end strength. For RDT&E, a reduction would
impose greater discipline in research investments, while continuing to budget significantly more
resources than any other country’s military RDT&E budget.75
however, duplicates the Army’s Patriot capabilities. All three partners may be unenthusiastic about continuing the
program. JLENS: The JLENS Army blimp is intended to provide extended-range radar surveillance and tracking of
low-altitude cruise missiles. There are other means of detecting such an attack, and few countries are capable of such a
strike. Those that are (e.g., France, UK, Russia, and China) are unlikely to launch such an attack on the U.S. V-22:
The V-22 Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft designed to take off and land vertically like a helicopter and fly forward like an
airplane. The amphibious mission for which it was planned has not been conducted by the Marines in decades. For
other lift missions, helicopters are increasingly a more cost-effective alternative. EFV: The Expeditionary Fighting
Vehicle is designed to land Marines on shore in support of amphibious assaults, but this tactic is unlikely to be used.
The vehicle has experienced numerous critical failures and been unable to meet reliability requirements. F-35: The
F-35 next-generation fighter jet is intended to provide air superiority over an adversary’s air forces and close air
support to land forces. Current generation F-15s, F-16s, F-18s, and AV-8B’s remain superior or competitive with any
other fighter program in the world and capable of penetrating air defenses. F-35 costs have risen sharply, leading it to
breach cost-control standards applying to Department of Defense (DOD) procurement. VA-class submarine:
Virginia class is the next-generation attack submarine, designed to engage enemy submarines and ships, as well as
attack targets on land with cruise missiles. There is relatively little naval threat to justify growth in the U.S.
submarine fleet. The program could be slowed. Ballistic Missile Department (BMD): The BMD program is
intended to provide global capability to intercept sub-orbital ballistic missiles, which may be nuclear-armed, at any
stage of their trajectory, regardless of their range and size. The threat of a ballistic missile attack against U.S. territory
has declined significantly since the program began. Iranian missiles lack the range to strike any major, permanent
U.S. base, much less U.S. territory. North Korean missiles may have the range to reach U.S. territory, but their test
program suggests that they lack the precision to do so. Continuing the program at roughly $5 billion a year is an
adequate hedge against surprise and uncertainty.
“National Defense Budget Estimates for FY 2011 (Green Book),” Department of Defense: Table 6-11.
The RDT&E funding discussed here excludes R&D on ballistic missile defense, which is discussed in the following
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Maintain Intelligence Capabilities at a Reduced Cost
Based on recommendations from the “9/11 Commission,”76 Congress passed and the President
signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), which created a
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) as head of the intelligence community. The Act granted
the DNI new and important budgetary authorities over the National Intelligence Program,
including the power to develop and determine the intelligence budget. While the DNI and
Secretary Gates recently announced that the total U.S. intelligence budget amounts to
approximately $80 billion per year, the details of the intelligence budget are classified. Of course,
this makes it difficult to judge how effectively the intelligence agencies are spending their
appropriations from Congress.
While making specific recommendations with regard to the intelligence budget is difficult given
the lack of available information, part of the rationale for establishing the DNI as a position was to
eliminate wasteful duplication within the intelligence community. Fulfilling this objective would
allow the United States to fully maintain its high-quality intelligence capabilities, while also
streamlining programs to jettison any extraneous or duplicative activities.
This proposal would urge the DNI to fully utilize these authorities granted in IRTPA, with the
expectation that savings would result. Specifically, the DNI could consider the following areas:
1) Consolidating operational infrastructures, such as computer systems and acquisitions;
2) Refining the “requirements and feedback systems” to tie intelligence more closely to user
3) Improving the “wheat-to-chaff ratio” of intelligence from intercepted electronic
communications; and
4) Placing a greater reliance on newer imagery technologies (such as commercial imagery)
while phasing out older ones as they become obsolete.
The Task Force also notes that the 9/11 Commission called for strengthening the intelligence
community’s oversight committees, in part, to improve scrutiny over intelligence appropriations.
The Task Force recommends that Congress take further steps to improve its oversight functions
and ensure that the intelligence community’s allocation of resources meets U.S. national security
needs in an effective and efficient manner.
Reform Military Health Care
Secretary Gates has warned of the growing impact of defense health care costs on the wider
defense budget. The Defense Department health care program has more than doubled over the
Formally known as the Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
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past decade, from $24 billion to $51 billion,77 and the Pentagon projects it to continue growing
disproportionately, at an annual rate of 5 to 7 percent through 2015.78 Active duty personnel and
their dependents, a cadre that consumes less than half (42 percent) of the program’s total cost, pay
no premiums or co-pays.79 The adjustment discussed below would not change that. Instead, it
would focus exclusively on retirees and their dependents, for whom benefits have expanded
without a significant change in cost sharing.
Retirees fall into two groups based on whether they are eligible for Medicare. When TRICARE
was established in 1995, retirees who were not yet eligible for Medicare and their dependents were
expected to pay approximately 27 percent of program costs. They have not seen any cost increase
since then, however, allowing the combined effects of medical inflation and policy changes to
reduce their cost sharing to approximately 11 percent.80 Medicare-eligible retirees and their
dependents, by contrast, currently do not share in their TRICARE costs.
Taken together, the Pentagon views rapid TRICARE cost increases as the result of inelastic cost
sharing formulas, overconsumption of health care, significant expansions of the eligibility pool,
and a decision on the part of pre-Medicare military retirees (now employed elsewhere) to favor
cheaper TRICARE coverage over their employer-offered benefit.
Adjusting the cost sharing formulas would offset these cost drivers by reducing demand for nonurgent care and providing an incentive for pre-Medicare retirees to seek coverage through their
current employer. There are also normative reasons for these changes. They would maintain
equity among retirees – both among different cohorts of military retirees and between military
retirees and the wider community of seniors that also faces higher costs. Since retiring from the
military implies that an individual reached a senior rank, most of the affected beneficiaries will
have higher-level retirement packages and can afford this increased cost share.
This illustrative recommendation takes two steps toward reining in those expenses by ensuring
cost sharing for the administration of the health care (TRICARE) program.81 First, the proposal
would restore the expectation from1995 that retirees not yet eligible for Medicare and their
dependents would provide 27 percent of the cost share through enrollment fees and co-pays, up
from the 11 percent cost sharing that exists today. Second, this recommendation would introduce
minimal cost sharing for Medicare-eligible retirees and their dependents who use TRICARE as a
supplement, currently with no cost sharing.
In constant 2010 dollars.
“Department of Defense FY 2011 Budget Request: Overview,” February 1, 2010: p. 3.
“Health care for Military Retirees Task Group Report to the Secretary of Defense,” Defense Business Board,
December 2005: Slide 5.
“Report of the Tenth Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation: Volume II,” Department of Defense, July
2008: p. 46.
For a general overview of TRICARE cost sharing formulas, see “The Effects of Proposals to Increase Cost Sharing
in TRICARE,” Congressional Budget Office, June 2009: pp. 9-12.
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Apply Secretary Gates’ Efficiency Measures to Deficit Reduction
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced earlier this year that he plans to find more than
$100 billion in budget authority savings over the five years from FYs 2012-16. The Secretary
hopes to reduce inefficiencies and waste within the U.S. military infrastructure and move those
resources to defense investments and force structure.
Secretary Gates has not itemized individual savings from each of his proposed efficiencies and
further announcements may yet be made. The most visible reduction has been the decision to
close the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), with roughly 2,800 military and civilian employees,
3,000 contractors, and $240 million a year in operating costs. In addition to JFCOM, two
Pentagon agencies will be terminated, and the number of employees in certain parts of the military
bureaucracy will be frozen, including Secretary Gates’ own office. More broadly, Secretary Gates
proposed to cut funding for service contractors by 10 percent in each of the next three years,
though this would not include contractors in war zones. He also proposed cutting the number of
admirals and generals by at least 50 and the number of several senior civilian executive positions
by at least 150.
Secretary Gates and Undersecretary Ashton Carter also have announced plans to streamline the
acquisitions process by controlling cost growth, enhancing productivity, promoting real
competition, improving procedure for buying services, and cutting red tape.
This recommendation would accept the Secretary’s estimate of the savings, but apply them to
overall spending discipline rather than reinvesting them.
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Other Savings
1. Reduce Farm Program Spending
Agriculture has always been a fixture of the American landscape and a critical piece of the
nation’s economy. In the 20th century, the United States rose to the forefront of global agricultural
production, serving as a major supplier of food to countries ravaged by war, and pioneering
production techniques that transformed farming methods worldwide. Today, with 2.2 million
domestic farms – of which 97 percent are family-owned – the United States remains a net exporter
of agricultural goods.
The federal government plays an important role in the farm sector because agricultural markets do
not always efficiently balance supply and demand in the way that one would expect normal
markets to behave. Consumers typically do not respond to changes in the price of staple food
items by buying proportionally smaller or larger quantities of food, and farmers cannot easily
respond to price changes by reducing or increasing production. These imbalances are exacerbated
by the long time lag between crop planting or livestock breeding and harvest, as well as
agriculture’s innate susceptibility to shocks from environmental changes or natural disasters.
In light of these factors, the Agriculture Department (USDA) provides support to U.S. farmers
through various programs, including: three types of commodity payments aimed at stabilizing
farm income; crop insurance to protect against crop failure and disaster relief; direct and
guaranteed loans to make credit available for planting and marketing; agricultural research and
education; regulatory programs to preserve the integrity of the food supply from pests and
diseases; conservation programs to protect soil, water, and other natural resources; marketing and
export promotion programs; and food aid.
This section of the report focuses on USDA activities that are classified as mandatory spending:
commodity programs, crop insurance, and most of the conservation programs. As mandatory
spending, funding levels for these programs are determined directly by the multi-year “farm bill”
that Congress drafts every five years. These programs totaled $17.6 billion in 2009.
Commodity Programs: Price and Income Support
Given the inherent volatility of prices and production in the agriculture sector, USDA makes
commodity payments to farms through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) in order to help
stabilize farm income. These programs shift some of the risks of market fluctuations onto the
federal government.
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About 38 percent of U.S. farms received some form of government payment in 2008. USDA
classifies these farms into three major categories:
Commercial farms: Farms with sales of $250,000 or more, in which the farm operators
report farming as their major occupation. Large commercial farms make up 12 percent of
all farms in the nation, and 70 percent of these farms receive some form of government
assistance. Of the total share of USDA payments in 2008, commercial farms received 62
percent, at an average value of $45,400 per farm. Large commercial farms, however,
produced 77 percent of all crops in that year.
Intermediate farms: Farms with sales below $250,000, in which the farm operators report
farming as their major occupation. Intermediate farms make up 27 percent of all U.S.
farms, and 44 percent receive some form of government assistance. Intermediate farms
received 19 percent of USDA payments in 2008, at an average of $11,900 per farm.
Rural residence farms: Farms in which the farm operator’s major occupation is not
farming. Rural residence farms make up 61 percent of U.S. farms, and 30 percent of these
farms receive government assistance. In 2008, rural residence farms received 19 percent
of government payments, at an average of $4,700 per farm.
Because the payments compensate farmers for highly variable commodity prices, CCC outlays can
vary dramatically from year to year. Each commodity payment, however, has an annual payment
limit per farm or farmer.
Crop Insurance and Emergency Assistance
The Federal Crop Insurance program protects farmers from losses caused by drought, flooding,
pest infestation, and other natural disasters. USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA)
administers this program, which allows farmers to choose among insurance policies that provide
various levels and types of protection. The insurance policies are sold and serviced by private
insurance companies that receive federal reimbursements for administrative expenses. The
insurance companies share the underwriting risk with the federal government and, in theory, can
gain or lose depending on the extent of crop losses and claims.
Conservation Programs
USDA’s conservation programs are designed to protect soil, water, wildlife, and other natural
resources. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service
Agency (FSA) administer 20 distinct conservation programs that provide technical or financial
assistance to farmers who wish to practice conservation on their agricultural lands. Most of
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USDA’s conservation programs respond to existing resource problems. Some funding pays
landowners to retire land from production for a period of time. Other funding is designed to
improve resource conditions through contour farming, nutrient management, controlling soil
erosion, groundwater and wetlands conservation, grasslands conservation, wildlife habitat
protection, tree planting, pest control, irrigation, and waste management.
A. Reduce and Limit Payments to Commercial Farms and Certain Producers
Description of Recommendation: USDA’s commodity payments to agriculture producers put
small farms at a disadvantage, with 62 percent of commodity payments going to large commercial
farms even though those farms comprise only 12 percent of all farms. This disproportionate share
of commodity payments creates incentives for large commercial farms to expand their operations
by buying out smaller farms, because the risks of expansion are being shared by the federal
government. Because of this disadvantage (on top of other struggles), smaller farms have
difficulty surviving in the marketplace.
This proposal seeks to remedy the aforementioned inequity by: (1) eliminating all payments based
on production history to large commercial producers (with combined farm and non-farm adjusted
gross incomes (AGI) of greater than $250,000); and (2) lowering the cap on direct payments based
on production history from its current $40,000 level to $20,000 (although counter-cyclical
payments will remain intact). These changes will reduce average government payments per
commercial farm by about $20,000 and promote greater distributional equity in payments to
farms, as smaller farms will still benefit from the payments.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: USDA gives price support to producers, concentrated in five commodities: corn,
wheat, cotton, rice, and soybeans. Beneficiaries must share the risk of producing a crop and
comply with land and resource conservation requirements. USDA helps producers in three ways:
direct payments based on production history (as opposed to market prices), counter-cyclical
Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) payments based on the average state revenue for that
crop, and guarantees of minimum prices per bushel or pound for certain crops covered by the
Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). Capped since 1970, the limits for direct payments are set
at $40,000 (separate from counter-cyclical payments). There are proportional caps for ACRE
payments and no limits on CCC payments.
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B. Reform Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) and Reduce Premium Subsidies
Description of Recommendation: Since 2000, the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) has
seen a significant increase in federal expenditures to insurance providers that subsidize their
administrative and operating costs (A&O). During the same period, however, higher crop prices
and increased coverage on acreage yielded higher premium revenues for insurance companies
without a corresponding increase in administrative costs. As such, the A&O subsidy and
companies’ share of underwriting gains – profits that remain after paying claims and expenses –
more than doubled from $1.8 billion in 2006 to $3.8 billion in 2009. At the same time, the number
of policies serviced actually fell. The average rate of return for crop insurance companies from
2004 through 2008 was 24 percent, as opposed to 11 percent for private property and casualty
insurance companies over the same period.
This proposal will reduce FCIP administrative and operating costs (A&O) subsidies to levels
consistent with recent studies that estimate a reasonable rate of return for crop insurance
companies. The Task Force plan will also reduce the FCIP premium subsidy for farmers from its
current 60 percent level to 50 percent. This change will not substantially affect the quantity or
quality of services provided to farmers because total insurance premiums and government
subsidies have been rising faster than administrative costs. Reducing the premium subsidy to 50
percent will equalize the sharing of costs and risks between the government and the producer.
Cumulative Budget Savings in billions of dollars from 2012 through:
Background: FCIP protects farmers from losses caused by drought, floods, pest infestation, and
other natural disasters. Farmers can choose various amounts and types of protection (for example,
against yield losses only or against yield losses and low prices) in policies sold and serviced by
private insurance companies; 80 percent of farms participate in this program. USDA spends about
$6.5 billion per year on crop insurance for farmers; however, a Government Accountability Office
(GAO) study found that 40 cents of every dollar in this program goes to the private companies that
sell and service policies and does not reach farmers.
C. Consolidate and Cap Agriculture Conservation Programs
Description of Recommendation: There is significant overlap among the various conservation
programs that USDA funds, which creates inefficiencies that strain the federal budget. This
proposal will eliminate that overlap by consolidating 16 of the programs into one capped
entitlement that grows with inflation. By consolidating redundant programs, USDA should
generate savings without severely affecting its ability to meet conservancy goals. Additionally,
consolidation could reduce confusion about the programs, as their overlap creates a difficulty for
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farmers in distinguishing one form of assistance from another. Under the transformed landscape,
constituents will clearly understand which program to tap for conservation purposes.
Programs considered for consolidation include: the Conservation Technical Assistance
Program, Soil Surveys, Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasts, Plant Material Centers, the
Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, Agricultural Management Assistance, the Chesapeake Bay
Watershed Program, the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, Environmental Quality
Incentives (EQUIP), the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, Conservation Innovation
Grants, Grown and Surface Water Conservation, the Farmable Wetlands Program, the
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve
Program, and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentives Program.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: The FSA and the NRCS administer 20 distinct conservation programs that provide
technical or financial assistance to farmers who wish to practice conservation on their lands.
Payments from conservation programs tend to go to smaller- and mid-sized producers, as opposed
to large ones. By 2020, expenditures for mandatory conservation programs that USDA funds will
nearly exceed direct and counter-cyclical price-support programs for producers.
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2. Reform Civilian Retirement
Description of Recommendation: The federal government calculates pension benefits using the
average of an employee’s highest three consecutive years of earnings. This proposal offers a
technical adjustment to that formula, replacing the current metric with the average of an
employee’s highest five consecutive years of earnings.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: The federal government has two major retirement plans for civilian employees: the
Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), which covers federal employees hired before 1984, and
the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), which Congress instituted in 1986. Both
systems provide benefits that are based on the average of an employee’s highest three consecutive
years of earnings. This proposal extends the calculation for both programs to a five-year average.
Using the longer period will better align federal pension practices with those in the private sector,
which commonly uses a five-year average to calculate base pensions. The change will also
generate budget savings without reducing current retirees’ benefits, and will create an incentive for
some federal employees to work longer in order to boost their pensions, thereby helping the
government retain experienced personnel.
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3. Reform the Military Retirement System
Description of Recommendation: This proposal will gradually replace the current military
retirement system’s defined-benefit plan with one modeled on the Federal Employees Retirement
System (FERS). FERS includes Social Security, a modest defined-benefit plan, and a definedcontribution plan in which employee contributions are matched by the federal government. The
proposed military plans also will allow vesting before 20 years of service and provide protection
from inflation. Military retirees could receive benefits as early as age 57 (depending on their
length of service), as is the case for civilian retirees. Military personnel with more than 15 years
of service will remain a part of the current system, but all others will transition into the new
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:82
Background: The current military retirement system operates with a “cliff-vesting” benefit
schedule: service members who retire after 20 or more years of service are 100 percent vested and
receive full benefits from the moment they depart, while service members who separate at any
point before 20 years receive no benefit. Under the present system, members who serve for 20
years receive immediate, inflation-protected annuities for life at an accrual cost83 of more than 30
percent of basic pay, a rate that is far above that of civilian pension programs.
This retirement system is inequitable because most members do not complete 20 years of service
and thus receive no benefits, inefficient because it uses deferred compensation rather than current
pay to incentivize service member retention, and costly because payments begin immediately upon
leaving the service. Military personnel typically retire in their early- to mid-40s and move to
second careers. The cliff-vesting provisions also result in an inflexible military manpower system,
with excess personnel in the cadre that have 12-20 years of service – many of whom would
naturally have chosen to retire from the military had they been eligible for retirement benefits at an
earlier point in their careers.
Recent Pentagon proposals have concurred with the concept of transitioning to a FERS-styled
program.84 A reformed system will improve equity by providing retirement benefits for all
personnel who serve at least 10 years, and enhance efficiency by using current pay and bonuses to
incentivize retention. Under any such plan, current pay will have to rise to make up for the
reduced incentive for members to remain in the service, and separation pay will be needed to ease
The decision to grandfather service members with more than 15 years of experience postpones the accrual of any
savings until service members from the new cohort reach 20 years of service in 2017.
“Accrual cost” refers to the sum of the present value of benefits earned in each year plus annually accrued interest
on benefits earned in prior years.
See Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, “Report of the Tenth Quadrennial Review of Military
Compensation: Volume II,” Department of Defense, July 2008.
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the transition to civilian life. Even with such adjustments, however, this reform is projected to
reduce the retirement system’s cost by at least 50 percent.
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4. Increase Fees for Aviation Security
Description of Recommendation: The 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act greatly
increased transportation security measures and made the federal government responsible for
aviation security procedures that were previously handled by airports and airlines. The fees that
the act authorized to pay for this expanded federal responsibility, however, now cover less than
half of federal costs. This proposal will increase fees for aviation security to a flat fee of $5 per
one-way trip in order to cover a greater portion of federal aviation security costs.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: The 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act made the federal government,
rather than airlines and airports, responsible for screening passengers, carry-on luggage, and
checked baggage. Implementing these new standards required hiring screeners who were more
highly trained and qualified, necessitating higher compensation, and raising overall costs to the
To help pay for increased security, the law authorized airlines to charge passengers $2.50, capped
at $5 for a one-way trip, each time they boarded a plane. The government was also authorized to
impose fees on the airlines themselves and to provide funding to reimburse airlines, airport
operators, and service providers for the additional costs of security enhancements. The Task Force
proposal will raise the fee for a one-way trip to a flat level of $5.
The public, in general, benefits from airport security, because greater security reduces the risk of
terrorism. Recognizing the general public benefit from airport security, this fee increase shifts a
greater share of security costs to users but still provides some subsidy from public funds.
The current situation, in which security costs are covered partly by users of the aviation system
and partly by general taxpayers, provides a large subsidy to air transportation. The main
beneficiaries of transportation security enhancements, however, are the users of the system, and
thus they should pay for most of the associated expense. Security is a basic cost of airline
transportation, in the same way that fuel and labor costs are.
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5. Actuarially Adjust Flood Insurance Subsidies for Risk
Description of Recommendation: The National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) premium
subsidy for structures that were built before the completion of regional flood insurance rate maps
(FIRMs) was designed to encourage the purchase of flood insurance by property owners who were
previously unaware of the flood risks they faced due to the lack of public knowledge. This
subsidy, however, has outlived its original purpose. Regional flood insurance rate maps have been
drawn for virtually the entire nation, and property owners can easily find information on the flood
risks and associated insurance rates for their area.
This proposal will phase out all pre-FIRM flood insurance premium subsidies over five years. By
eliminating the subsidy, the NFIP will charge actuarially fair rates to all flood insurance
policyholders. This will make policyholders of these older structures pay a fair share for their
insurance protection, or create appropriate incentives for them to relocate. Currently, the NFIP
must pay a considerable portion of annual premium receipts to service a debt of $19.3 billion
borrowed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Because the remaining premium revenue is
less than the average cost of annual claims, a large backlog of claims awaiting payment is
developing. Increasing premiums will reduce the program’s shortfall and also allow the NFIP to
reduce the backlog in claims.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: The NFIP is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
to insure buildings and their contents against losses due to flooding. The program charges two
sets of premiums. The first set applies to “pre-FIRM” structures – buildings erected before 1975
or before the completion of a community’s official FIRM. These premiums are heavily
subsidized; the government pays an average of about 60 percent of their cost. The other set of
premiums applies to “post-FIRM” buildings. Post-FIRM premiums are designed to be actuarially
sound (i.e., they cover the costs of all insured losses). Post-FIRM premiums are calculated under
a formula that assesses the risk of flooding in a particular building, given the structure’s elevation
relative to the flood level. Pre-FIRM structures are not subject to the same risk assessment,
despite constituting more than 20 percent of NFIP’s insurance policies. This proposal will create
parity between insurance rates on pre-FIRM and post-FIRM structures.
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6. Adjust Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation Fees to Better Cover Unfunded
Description of Recommendation: Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) expenses rose
considerably with the 2008 financial crisis, as a large number of firms went bankrupt or were
forced to terminate their pension plans without sufficient assets to pay promised benefits. This
proposal seeks to improve the PBGC’s long-term financial condition, and align premium costs
more closely with the risks that participating companies pose. To accomplish this goal, the PBGC
should increase the fixed-rate premium by 15 percent and raise the variable-rate premium from $9
to $12 per $1,000 of underfunding.
Additionally, although not reflected in the savings estimates below, the Task Force recommends
that the PBGC base the variable premium partly on the riskiness of a private pension plan’s
investment allocation (e.g., how much is invested in stocks versus bonds).
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: The PBGC is a federal agency that insures participants in private employers’
defined-benefit pension plans against losses if their plans are terminated without sufficient assets
to pay promised benefits. In such a case, the PBGC assumes the plan’s assets and liabilities, and
makes monthly annuity payments to qualified retirees. The PBGC assesses fees on participating
firms, consisting of a fixed annual payment ($34 in 2009) for each participant (worker or retiree)
in the plan; for an underfunded plan, a variable payment equal to $9 for each $1,000 by which the
plan is underfunded; and, for a plan terminated in or after January 2006, a $1,250 payment for
each participant in each of the first three years after the company exits bankruptcy.
In 2008, the PBGC reported a deficit of about $11 billion, meaning its assets were $11 billion less
than the present value of benefits owed to workers and retirees in terminated plans (or plans whose
termination the agency viewed as “probable”). This proposal will adjust both the fixed and
variable components of the premiums to improve PBGC’s long-term financial outlook. The fixedcomponent increase can be done either by raising the current fee per covered individual from $34
to $39, or by changing the assessment base to some measure of insured benefits and setting the
premium at a rate that yields 15 percent more in collections.
Meanwhile, raising the variable-rate premium will raise the cost for employers who maintain
underfunded plans or plans that are heavily invested in more volatile assets. This will provide a
further incentive for employers to fully fund their plans, and to invest in assets less likely to
experience large swings or heavy losses. This change can be made through an adjustment of the
variable premium rate that is based on the percentage of a pension portfolio’s assets invested in
stocks versus bonds. Greater allocations in bonds will reduce the volatility of portfolio assets, and
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therefore reduce future claims to the PBGC. Companies can still choose to invest in the stock
market, where they might see higher returns than in bonds, but, in doing so, they – rather than the
government – will bear more of the consequences of the investments’ risk.
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7. Use a More Accurate Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for All Federal Benefit
Description of Recommendation: The COLA for all federal benefit programs (e.g., federal and
military pensions) is linked to changes in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners
(CPI-W). Many analysts and economists, however, believe that the CPI-W can overstate inflation
because it does not fully account for changes in consumer spending resulting from increases in
This proposal recommends switching the basis for COLA adjustments in these programs from the
CPI-W to the “chain-weighted” Consumer Price Index for All Urban Workers (CPI-U). This
alternative measure more accurately reflects price changes due to inflation and will grow at an
estimated 0.3 percentage points more slowly than the CPI-W over the next 10 years. Using the
Chained CPI-U will reduce federal outlays while still providing better protection against inflation
than most private pensions.
Cumulative Budget Savings in Billions of Dollars from 2012 through:
Background: Many federal benefit programs provide annual COLAs that protect beneficiaries
against inflation-driven price increases. Currently, the COLA for these programs is linked to
changes in the CPI-W. The CPI-W, however, can overstate inflation because it does not fully
account for changes in patterns of spending. (For example, when the price of apples goes up,
people can reduce the impact by substituting oranges.) Many experts have proposed shifting the
calculation of annual COLAs from the CPI-W to the C-CPI-U, an alternative measure developed
by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that typically grows at a slower rate than the CPI-W.
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Enforce the Budget, Reform the Process
Statutory Caps on Discretionary Spending
Description of Recommendation: This proposal will require that any breach of the discretionary
spending caps (i.e., spending levels exceeding those specified in the five-year defense freeze or the
four-year non-defense freeze) will trigger automatic reductions in discretionary spending,
sufficient to eliminate the excess amount. The only exception will be “emergency spending,”
which will have to meet specific definitional requirements and be certified as such by the
President and Congress.
While this proposal imposes caps on “defense” and “non-defense” discretionary spending, the
Task Force urges policymakers to strongly consider redefining these categories as “security
spending” and “non-security spending.” Security spending will include defense, international
affairs, and homeland security spending – recognizing the inherent and frequent interaction of
those programs. Non-security spending will include all other discretionary programs.
Background: The Task Force proposal will re-establish the statutory spending caps that were in
place in the 1990s. The goal of discretionary spending limits, first established under the 1990
Budget Enforcement Act (BEA), was to set statutory ceilings for discretionary spending (i.e.,
spending controlled through annual appropriations bills) in each fiscal year. Congress established
limits on both budget authority and outlays at levels consistent with the goal of bringing projected
deficits under control.
The key to the statutory spending limits was their enforcement mechanism. If the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB) determined that appropriations legislation exceeded the statutory
limits, the President was required by law to execute an automatic across-the-board cut
(“sequester”) to eliminate the excess amount. In general, both Congress and the administration
worked hard to keep spending within the caps.
Under the BEA, across-the-board cuts were triggered by spending overages in only one fiscal year
– 1991. This apparent success, however, was due in part to an escape valve: an exemption for
emergency spending. Under the BEA, any appropriations that both the President and Congress
deemed an “emergency requirement” were exempted from the discretionary spending limits. The
Task Force therefore urges that re-enactment of spending caps include a rigorous definition of
what spending constitutes an emergency.
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Strengthening Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) Restraints on
New Entitlement Spending and Revenue Losses
Description of Recommendation: This proposal will require that policymakers fully offset any
losses in revenues, expansions of existing mandatory (entitlement) spending, or new mandatory
spending through reductions in mandatory spending or increases in revenues. Violation of this
statutory requirement will trigger automatic reductions in non-exempt mandatory spending. This
provision will prevent Congress from restoring the tax expenditures that the Task Force plan
eliminates or undoing entitlement cuts that the plan imposes unless the costs are fully offset.
Background: The Task Force proposes re-establishing the strong pay-as-you-go (PAYGO)
restraints that Congress put in place in the 1990s, which helped to generate four straight budget
surpluses starting in 1998. The concept was simple: If lawmakers wanted to enact new
entitlement programs, expand existing entitlements, or enact new tax cuts, they had to find offsets
to “pay for” the cost of the new benefits or tax cuts. These offsets could consist of cuts in
mandatory (entitlement) spending or tax increases.
Similar to the discretionary spending limits, the teeth in PAYGO was an automatic “sequester”
mechanism. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was required to execute automatic
cuts in non-exempt mandatory spending programs if the cumulative effect of tax and entitlement
legislation in a particular year was to increase the deficit. Medicare would bear the brunt of a
PAYGO sequester, with farm price supports, child support enforcement, and social services block
grants among other programs that would face cuts. No PAYGO sequesters of mandatory spending
were ever triggered during the 1990s.
Biennial Budgeting
Description of Recommendation: This proposal will move the federal government from annual to
biennial budgeting, requiring the President to submit a two-year budget proposal every oddnumbered year, and Congress to adopt two-year budget resolutions and two-year appropriations
Background: The Budget Act – the law that governs the congressional budget process – calls for
the President to submit a new budget every year, and for Congress to adopt an annual budget
resolution and annual appropriations bills (currently numbering 12).
Proponents of biennial budgeting argue that it will reduce the enormous amount of time consumed
by the annual budget process, giving Congress more time to review the effectiveness of programs
in meeting the nation’s needs. In addition, biennial budgeting should give agency program
managers and recipients of federal funds more financial stability and, consequently, the potential
to plan better and achieve greater efficiencies.
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Administration officials, Members of Congress, and outside experts have offered a variety of
proposals since the late 1970s to switch the federal budget process from an annual to a two-year,
or “biennial,” timetable. Most proposals call for lawmakers to use the first year of each Congress
to adopt a biennial (two-year) budget resolution and biennial appropriations. The second year of
each Congress will then be devoted to multi-year authorization bills and program oversight.
Biennial budget proposals also typically require the President to submit two-year budgets to
Congress and conduct performance reviews on a two-year cycle.
Biennial budgeting has received widespread support from all Democratic and Republican
Administrations since the 1980s, various bipartisan commissions, key congressional committees,
and majorities in surveys of the House and Senate, but Congress has never enacted the change.
Maintaining Entitlements at Sustainable Levels
Description of Recommendation: Enact explicit long-term budgets for the major entitlement
programs. Create a Fiscal Accountability Commission that will meet every five years to assess
whether program growth is remaining within the long-term budgets and, if not, to propose
measures that would restore long-term sustainability.
Background: Long-term budget projections inherently involve a lot of assumptions about many
economic and programmatic factors. The further out the projections, the more speculative they
are. While the Task Force expects the policies proposed in the report to stabilize the debt below
60 percent of GDP in 2020 and beyond, this provision provides a mechanism to ensure that longterm growth of entitlement programs is carefully re-examined every five years.
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3. Required Debt Reduction (in billions of dollars) to reach 60% of GDP
B. Reform Medicare's copayment structure*
13. Anti-obesity measure: Tax on manufacture and importation of
sweetened beverages
SUBTOTAL: Health Care Budget Savings
% of total policy changes (excluding debt service)
12. Enact medical malpractice reforms
Near Term: Broaden the use of managed care in Medicaid*
Transform Medicaid
11. Long Term: In 2018, end Medicaid federal match system & allocate
responsibilities between fed and states in a revenue-neutral manner
D. Reduce payments to Rx companies*
9. Long Term: In 2018, transition to premium support
C. Bundle payments for post-acute care
(mandated instead of pilot)*
A. Phase in Part B premium increase
from 25% to 35% over 5 years*
Near Term:
Transform Medicare
4. Cap employer health benefits exclusion in 2018
and phase out over 10 years
2. Debt Reduction Goal (60% of GDP)
As a percent of GDP (currently at 62%)
In billions of dollars (currently at $9,031)
1. Current Debt Projections (debt held by the public)
Budget Estimates Through 2040
Fiscal Years, Billions of $
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Cumulative Savings:
Adjust benefit formula (protecting bottom 75% - begin in 2023)
23. Increase fees for aviation security
24. Actuarially adjust flood insurance premiums for risk
25. Adjust PBGC fees to cover unfunded liabilities
SUBTOTAL: Other Mandatory
% of total policy changes (excluding debt service)
22. Reform farm program spending
20. Reform civilian and military retirement
21. Change to more accurate inflation adjustment for all federal benefit
SUBTOTAL: Social Security Savings (including interactions)
% of total policy changes (excluding debt service)
19. Cover state and local workers (begin in 2020) / sharing pension data
between states and SSA
18. Update minimum benefit for long-term low-wage earners and protect the
most vulnerable elderly with a modest benefit increase
Increase taxable base to 90% over 38 years (begin in 2012)
16. Change to more accurate annual COLA calculation
Index benefit formula for longevity (begin in 2023)
Fiscal Years, Billions of $
* Note: There are no further savings from short-term Medicare and Medicaid policies after 2018 because all savings after that accrue from the long-term policies.
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Cumulative Savings:
27. 5-Year Defense Discretionary Hard Freeze (2012-2016) at 2011 levels, then
capped at GDP
Cumulative Savings:
30. Restructure tax benefits for low-income families and families with children,
and eliminate standard deduction and personal exemptions
33. Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax
34. Introduce a 6.5% Debt-reduction Sales Tax (DRST), phased-in over 2 years
(3% in 2012, 6.5% in 2013)
37. Extend Estate Tax at 2009 levels (baseline assumption)
38. 1-year social security payroll tax holiday for employees and employers
(note: although not shown, this proposal costs $481 billion in FY2011)
35. Adjust excise tax on alcoholic beverages to 25 cents/oz
36. Index the tax system to a more accurate measure of inflation
31. Reduce Income Tax Rates to: 15% and 27%
32. Reduce Corporate Tax Rate to 27%
29. Tax all capital gains and dividends as ordinary income (top rate of 27%),
with $1,000 exclusion for capital gains (or losses)
28. Restructure itemized deductions and eliminate most tax expenditures
% of total policy changes (excluding debt service)
SUBTOTAL: Discretionary Spending Savings
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* In order to accommodate inflation, population growth, aging of the population, and priority investments, it is expected that, within the total freeze level, individual programs would be reduced, terminated, or
increased, and additional savings would be achieved through new fees and management reforms, and best practices adopted from the states.
* Under BEA enforcement, any breach of the caps triggers automatic cuts.
26. 4-Year Non-Defense Discretionary Hard Freeze (2012-2015) at 2011 levels,
then capped at GDP
(Numbers reflect estimated outlay savings compared to baseline, i.e., growth at GDP levels)
CAP DISCRETIONARY SPENDING (Budget Authority) w/ BEA enforcement*
Fiscal Years, Billions of $
Baseline Deficit as % of GDP
Rate Cuts and New Revenues subtotal also includes the effects from policies #13 and #15.
The budget savings from covering newly hired state & local workers under the Social Security program
is included in this total, but not in any of the subtotals because it is a coverage provision.
Bipartisan Plan Deficit as % of GDP
Baseline Debt as % of GDP
Bipartisan Plan Debt as % of GDP
Bottom Line (positive number indicates excess debt reduction)
Required Debt Reduction (in billions of dollars) to reach 60% of GDP
% of total debt reduction
% of total policy changes (excluding debt service)
% of total policy changes (excluding debt service)
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In Year:
Cumulative Savings:
% of total policy changes (excluding debt service)
Fiscal Years, Billions of $
Appendix A: Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) Tax Reform
Quick Summary
The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) Tax Reform Plan represents a radical simplification of the
current tax code. In fact, to best explain it, forget what you know about the complexities of the
current tax system, and start fresh. Outlined below are the core elements of the plan:
A two-bracket income tax with rates of 15 percent and 27 percent. Because there is no
standard deduction or personal exemptions, the 15 percent rate applies to the 1st dollar of
The corporate tax rate will be set at 27 percent, instead of the current 35 percent level.
Capital gains and dividends will be taxed as ordinary income (with a top rate of 27
percent), excluding the first $1,000 of realized net capital gains (or losses).86
Introduce a 6.5 percent broad-based Debt Reduction Sales Tax (DRST), phased-in over
two years.87
To replace the overly complex Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and to help offset the
effects of the DRST and elimination of personal exemptions, the standard deduction and
the child credit, the BPC Plan will establish:
o A flat refundable per child tax credit of $1,600 (higher than current law); and
o A refundable earnings credit88 similar to the current Making Work Pay credit, but
substantially higher.
Instead of the current system of itemized deductions, which disproportionately subsidizes
the housing consumption and charitable giving of upper-income taxpayers, the BPC Plan
o Provide a flat 15 percent refundable tax credit for charitable contributions and
for up to $25,000 per year, not indexed, mortgage interest on a primary
o Eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes.
o Provide a flat, 15 percent refundable tax credit or a deduction (for those in the
higher bracket) for contributions to retirement saving accounts up to 20 percent
of earnings or a maximum of $20,000.
The 27 percent rate applies approximately to income above $51,000 for single filers and $102,000 for couples.
$500 for singles and heads of household
The DRST will start at 3 percent in 2012, and then increase to 6.5 percent by 2013.
The refundable earnings credit is equal to 21.3 percent of the first $20,300 of earnings.
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Include 100 percent of Social Security benefits in taxable income, but:
o Create a non-refundable credit for Social Security beneficiaries equal to 15 percent
of the current standard deduction; and
o Create a non-refundable credit equal to 15 percent of an individual’s Social
Security benefits.
Allow deduction of medical expenses in excess of 10 percent of Adjusted Gross Income
(AGI) (as in current law).
Allow deduction of miscellaneous itemized deductions in excess of 5 percent of AGI.
The BPC Plan achieves a massive simplification of the tax code:
Aligns the top individual, capital gains and dividend tax rates
Reduces the corporate tax rate
Eliminates the AMT
Eliminates the need to file returns for most individuals89
Despite a low top rate of 27 percent, the new tax system created under the BPC Plan is more
progressive than the current system and raises the requisite revenue to achieve our debtreduction goal.
According to Tax Policy Center projections, only 50 percent of tax units would be required to file tax returns, as
opposed to 88 percent under the current tax system.
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Appendix B: Tax Expenditures Retained in the New Tax Structure
401(k) plans, Individual Retirement Accounts, and Keogh plans, but the total amount employees and
employers may contribute to tax-deferred retirement saving plans is limited to the smaller of 20
percent of earnings or $20,000.
Accelerated depreciation of buildings other than rental housing (normal tax method)
Accelerated depreciation of machinery and equipment (normal tax method)
Capital gains exclusion on home sales
Carryover basis of capital gains on gifts
Deductibility of casualty losses
Deductibility of charitable contributions is replaced by a 15 percent refundable credit for contributions
that all taxpayers may claim.
Deductibility of medical expenses
Deductibility of mortgage interest on owner-occupied homes is replaced with a refundable credit of 15
percent for the first $25,000 of mortgage interest paid that all homeowners may claim. The new credit
is limited to principal residences.
Deferral of income from controlled foreign corporations (normal tax method)
Deferral of interest on U.S. savings bonds
Deferred taxes for financial firms on certain income earned overseas90
Employer defined-benefit retirement plans
Exclusion of benefits and allowances to armed forces personnel
Exclusion of interest on public purpose state and local bonds
Exclusion of interest spread of financial institutions
Exclusion of net imputed rental income
Expensing of certain small investments (normal tax method)
Expensing of research and experimentation expenditures (normal tax method)
Income averaging for farmers
Low and moderate income savers credit is expanded. In place of a deduction, taxpayers may claim a
15 percent refundable credit. This helps those in the 15 percent bracket with no liability.
Ordinary income treatment of loss from small business corporation stock sale
Tax credit for the elderly and disabled, and additional deduction for the elderly and blind are replaced
with a new tax credit for those 65 and over or blind.
The Task Force plan leaves in place the provision that allows U.S. multinationals to defer taxation of the profits of
their foreign subsidiaries until those profits are repatriated to the U.S. parent (deferral). Some view deferral as an
incentive for U.S.-based companies to invest overseas, but others believe eliminating deferral would damage the
ability of U.S. corporations to compete with foreign-based corporations and note that most of our major trading
partners have enacted territorial systems that exempt completely the active foreign income of their corporations.
While the Task Force plan does not address our complex system of taxing international income flows of corporations,
the substantially lower corporate tax rate that the Task Force proposes will increase the incentive for both U.S. and
foreign-based multinationals to invest in the United States.
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Appendix C: Actuarial Scoring of Social Security Plan
Bipartisan Debt Reduction Task Force Pan
As of November 10, 2010
1) Increase taxable maximum 2 percent per year beginning in 2012 until a taxable
ratio of 90 percent is achieved. Additional taxable earnings would enter in the
benefit base. Current law bend points and PIA formula factors are unchanged.
2) Beginning with the December 2012 benefit adjustment, base the increase on
the 3rd quarter to 3rd quarter increase in the Chain-weighted Consumer Price
Index for Urban Consumers rather than the Consumer Price Index for Urban
Wage-Earners and Clerical Workers. (Related 2009 solvency provision A3.)
3) Cover newly hired state and local government employees beginning in 2020.
4) Phase out the income and payroll tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health
insurance beginning in 2018. Set exclusion at the 75th percentile of premium
distribution in 2018, with amounts above that subject to tax. Reduce the
exclusion level by 10 percent annually with exclusion fully eliminated in 2028.
(Related 2009 solvency provision F2, but phased-out over a 10-year period
rather than all at once.)
5) Reduce the upper 15 percent PIA formula factor by 1/3 over a 30-year period
beginning in 2023 and through 2052, with an ultimate factor of 10%. Affects
OASI and DI.
6) Reconfigure the special minimum benefits to ensure that someone earning at
least 20% of the old law tax max in each of 30 years would receive a PIA of
133 percent of the federal poverty level, with the formula phased up to 133
percent of poverty linearly for workers over 19 creditable years. Up to 8 years
of care-giving could be used as creditable years for care of a child under the
age of 6, if it is not otherwise counted as a creditable year (earnings < 20% old
law tax max). Scale requirements for DIBs including child care credit years.
Effective for new eligibles in 2012. Wage-index the poverty level from 2009
up to 2 years prior to benefit eligibility.
7) Tax all voluntary salary reduction plans like 401(k)s for payroll tax purposes,
effective 2012.
8) For those attaining age 62 in 2023 and later, reduce all benefit formula factors
by the increase in period life expectancy, with a 4-yr lag (2023 versus 2022 for
the first year.) Apply for OASI only, with DI benefits proportionally reduced
at conversion.
9) Provide the same dollar amount increase to the benefit level of any beneficiary
who is 85 or older at the beginning of 2012 or who reaches his or her 85th
birthday after the beginning of 2012. The dollar amount of increase equals 5
percent of the average retired worker benefit in the prior year. Phase in at 1%
per year from 81 to 85.
10) 6.5 percent DRST and lower corporate income tax from 35 to 27 percent.
Estimated to result in a 4 percent decrease in AWI, ATE.
11) Change in personal income tax structure
Effect of total proposal
in 75year
Change in
75th year
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Appendix D: Domestic Discretionary Reductions and Terminations
Recently Developed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO),
and the Obama and Bush Administrations
The lists below are presented for purely illustrative purposes. Task Force members are
not endorsing any particular items on these lists. Also, note that the options presented
by the CBO do not reflect its endorsement of any particular terminations or reductions.
Examples of Programs Recently Proposed for Termination
Agriculture Single-family Housing Direct Loans1
Airports: Eliminate Grants to Large and Medium-sized Hub Airports
Automobile Fuel Cells: Eliminate Funding for the FreedomCAR and
Fuel Partnership
Community Service (AmeriCorps, Learn & Serve America)
Community Development Financial Institutions Fund
Drugs: Eliminate the National Youth Anti-drug Media Campaign
Educational Technology State Grants2
Election Reform Grants2
Emergency Operations Center Grant Program2
Energy Conservation: Eliminate the Dept. of Energy’s Grants to
States for Energy Conservation and Weatherization
Bush Budget
EPA: Eliminate the EPA’s Science to Achieve Results Grant Program
Essential Air Service (air carriers serving small communities)
Food and Nutrition Service - Commodity Supplemental Food
Health Resources and Services Administration (3 terminations)
• Health Care Facilities and Construction2
• Denali Commission2
• Delta Health Initiative2
Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the
Baldrige National Quality Program
International Trade Administration's Trade Promotion Activities
LEAP: Eliminate the Leveraging Educational Assistance
Partnership Program
Legal Services Corporation
Mass Transit (Rail): Eliminate the New Starts Transit Program
National Park Service: Eliminate Funding for Heritage Area Grants
NSF Spending on Elementary and Secondary Education
Est. Savings
(in millions)
Bush Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Bush Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
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Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation
Oil and Gas Research and Development Program
Overseas Private Investment Corporation
Regional Development Agencies
Resource Conservation and Development Program2
Safe and Drug Free Schools
Senior Community Service Employment Program
Small Department of Education Programs (5 terminations)
• B.J. Olympic Scholarship2
• Byrd Honors Scholarship2
• Historic Whaling and Trading Partners2
• Legal Assistance Loan Repayment2
• Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural2
State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP)2
Student Aid: Eliminate Administrative Fees Paid to Schools in the
Campus-based Student Aid and Pell Grant Programs
Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants2
Surface Transportation Priorities (STP)2
Targeted Water Infrastructure Grants2
Tech Prep Consolidation2
Unconventional Fossil Technology Program2
Wastewater and Drinking Water: Eliminate Federal Grants for
Bush/Obama Budget
Bush/Obama Budget
Bush/Obama Budget
Bush/Obama Budget
Bush/Obama Budget
Bush/Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Bush/Obama Budget
Bush Budget
Bush Budget
Obama Budget
Bush/Obama Budget
Bush/Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Figure for this program represents the elimination of the program budget authority plus five years of the estimated 2011 direct
loan subsidy outlays.
Figure for this program represents five years of 2010 budget authority level.
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Est. Savings
(in millions)
Examples of Programs Recently Proposed For Reduction:
Agricultural Research Service Buildings and Facilities3
Agriculture Capital Improvement and Maintenance Program3
Amtrak: Reduce the Federal Subsidy
Arts and Humanities (Smithsonian, CPB, NEH, NEA, National
Gallery of Art, Kennedy Center): Reduce by 20 percent
Community Development Block Grant: Drop Wealthy Communities
Corps of Engineers Construction Projects3
Emergency Steel Guaranteed Loan Program3
EPA Homeland Security Activities3
Even Start Family Literacy Program: Eliminate Funding for Even Start
and Redirect Some Funds to Other Education Programs
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative3
Hazardous Fuels Reduction3
Home Investment Partnerships Program3
Homeland Security: Reduce Funding for Research and Development
Programs in the Science and Technology Directorate
Homeland Security: Restrict First Responder Grants to High-risk
Housing: Increase Payments by Tenants in Federally Assisted Housing
(which effectively reduces federal support)
Housing: Reduce Rent Subsidies for Certain One-person Households
Justice: State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance, Justice
Assistance, Juvenile Justice, COPS, and Violence Against Women
New Construction of Housing for the Elderly and Disabled (2
• Housing for the Elderly3
• Housing for Persons with Disabilities3
Public Housing Capital Fund3
Rural Water and Waste Disposal: Reduce Federal Spending by
Capitalizing State Revolving Funds then Ending Federal Assistance
Terrorism Risk Insurance Program
Timber Sales: Reduce Funding for Timber Sales that Lose Money
Uniform Criteria for Special Monthly Pension (Veterans’ Affairs)
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Bush/Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Bush Budget
Obama Budget
Obama Budget
Figure for this program represents five years of savings at the proposed reduction in 2011 budget authority level.
Figure for this program represents five years of savings from a 15 percent reduction in 2010 budget authority level.
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Appendix E: Illustrative List of New Fees that
Could Fund Some Domestic Discretionary Activities
Imposition of new or increased fees related to the services provided by an agency or program is a
means of adjusting to the tight constraints of a four-year domestic discretionary freeze. Fees, in
effect, allow for a reduction in a program’s annual appropriation, or are a means of allowing a
program to accommodate increasing demands due to population growth, inflation, or the growing
need for services.
The list below provides examples of fees that could be considered by policymakers, but is
presented for purely illustrative purposes. Task Force members are not endorsing any
particular items on this list. Note: Figures represent funds that would be raised over five
Army Corps: Increase fees for permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers (CBO: $203
Banks: Charge for examinations of state-chartered banks (CBO: $497 million)
Commodity Futures Trade Commission: Charge transaction fees (CBO: $588 million)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Fees that recover the EPA’s costs related to
pesticide and new-chemical registration (CBO: $114 million)
Grazing Fees: Use state formulas to set grazing fees for federal lands (CBO: $105 million)
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): Increase registration fees for the FAA (CBO: $164
Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Fees to augment funding for the FDA to recover
costs for drug approval (CBO: $254 million)
Federal Housing Administration’s Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Insurance: Increase
fees (CBO: $272 million)
Food Safety and Inspection Service: Fund the agency solely through fees (CBO: $4.6 billion)
Hardrock Mining: Maintenance and location fees for hardrock mining on federal lands
(CBO: $193 million)
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Inland Waterway System: Fees to finance maintenance of the system (CBO: $1.875 billion)
Nuclear Waste: Index the Nuclear Waste Fund Fee to inflation (CBO: $143 million)
Rail Safety: Fees to offset rail safety activities (CBO: $574 million)
Small Business Administration (SBA): Impose fees on the SBA’s secondary market
guarantees (CBO: $21 million)
St. Lawrence Seaway: Impose fees on users (CBO: $114 million)
Trade Administration: Increase International Trade Administration fees to cover the full
costs of trade promotion activities (CBO: $1.56 billion)
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Appendix F: Discretionary Spending Baseline and Policy Path Details
(Billions of dollars)
Assumed War Spending
BPC Baseline - CBO Alternative Fiscal Scenario (Discretionary Appropriations grow at GDP and combat troop levels decline to 30,000
by 2013)
Budget Authority
BPC Policy Path (4-year hard freeze for NDD (2012-2015), 5-year hard freeze for defense (2012-2016))
Budget Authority
Outlay Reduction
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About the Bipartisan Policy Center
In 2007, former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George
Mitchell founded the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a non-profit organization that develops and
promotes solutions that draw support from both Republicans and Democrats and generates the
necessary political momentum to achieve real progress. As the only Washington-based
organization promoting bipartisanship as an effective means of overcoming the challenges facing
the nation, the BPC is working to restore civility and respectful discourse to the national debate.
The BPC currently has projects focused on health care, energy, national and homeland security,
economic policy, and transportation. Each of these initiatives is headed by a diverse team of
political and business leaders, substantive experts and academics who work closely with our staff
of policy specialists and former Congressional and White House aides to develop consensus-based
solutions that both Republicans and Democrats can support. The Bipartisan Policy Center Action
Network, the BPC’s c(4) organization, provides strategic advice and political advocacy to ensure
our projects’ policy recommendations have traction in Congress, the Executive Branch and the
stakeholder community.
We believe it’s time to revive the nation’s longstanding bipartisan tradition – a tradition that in the
last century produced significant achievements in energy and environmental policy, Social
Security reform, and national security. Through events like Bridge-Builder Breakfasts, political
summits and timely policy discussions, the BPC provides a forum to highlight policymakers and
political leaders who are working collaboratively to forge bipartisan consensus on the key issues
of the day.
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Bipartisan Policy Center Economic Policy Project Staff:
Charles S. Konigsberg, Director
Loren Adler, Policy Analyst
Shai Akabas, Policy Analyst
Steve Bell, Visiting Scholar
Jessica Smith, Administrative Assistant
Interns: David Cooper and Doris Parfaite-Claude
Dr. Gordon Adams, Professor of International Relations, School of International Service,
American University and Distinguished Fellow, Stimson Center (Defense)
Dr. Paul Cullinan (Social Security)
Dr. Paul Ginsburg, President, Center for Studying Health System Change (Health)
Larry Haas (Communications)
Don Moran, President, The Moran Company (Budget Preparation, Health)
Dr. Eric J. Toder, Co-Director Tax Policy Center (Tax)
Special thanks to Task Force Members Dr. Len Burman and Dr. Joe Minarik for framing the
extraordinary tax simplification and reform plan in this document, and the Tax Policy Center
modeling team, directed by Jeffrey Rohaly; Task Force Member Bill Hoagland and BPC Senior
Fellow Secretary Dan Glickman for their generous assistance on the agriculture reforms; Task
Force Member Bob Campbell for providing insights into financial and management reforms; Task
Force Member Bill Novelli, former CEO of AARP, for offering his expert advice on Social
Security; Social Security Administration Chief Actuary Steve Goss for his extensive and timely
technical assistance; Matthew Leatherman, David Martin-McCormick, Hans-Inge Longo, Alex
Brozdowski from the Stimson Center’s project on budgeting for foreign affairs and defense; and
Dr. Eric Toder and the Tax Policy Center for their extraordinary support of this project.
The Task Force benefited from the skills and insights of many BPC staff across the organization’s
many areas of expertise: Michael Allen (National Security); Julie Barnes (Health); Emil Frankel
(Transportation); JayEtta Z. Hecker (Transportation); General Ronald Keys (Defense); Joe Kruger
(Energy); Lourdes Long (Energy); Meghan McGuinness (Energy); Joshua Schank
(Transportation); Tracy Terry (Energy); and Nikki Thorpe (Transportation). Many thanks to the
administrative and communications staff of BPC for their consistently excellent support.
For Information about this Report Contact:
Eileen McMenamin
VP of Communications
[email protected]
Charles S. Konigsberg
Project Director
[email protected]
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