The Nation's Long-Term Fiscal Outlook:

January 2008 Update

GAO-08-591R: Published: Mar 21, 2008. Publicly Released: Mar 21, 2008.

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Since 1992, GAO has published long-term fiscal simulations of what might happen to federal deficits and debt levels under varying policy assumptions. We developed our long-term model in response to a bipartisan request from Members of Congress who were concerned about the long-term effects of fiscal policy. Our simulations were updated with Congressional Budget Office (CBO's) January budget and economic projections and continue to indicate that the long-term federal fiscal outlook remains unsustainable. This update combined with our analysis of the fiscal outlook of state and local governments demonstrates that the fiscal challenges facing all levels of government are linked and should be considered in a strategic and integrated manner. We update our simulations three times a year as new estimates become available from CBO's Budget and Economic Outlook (January), Social Security and Medicare Trustees Reports (spring), and CBO's Budget and Economic Outlook: An Update (late summer). This product responds to congressional interest in receiving updated simulation results.

Our updated simulations continue to illustrate that the long-term fiscal outlook is unsustainable. Despite a 3-year decline in the unified budget deficit, the federal government still faces large and growing structural deficits driven primarily by rising health care costs and known demographic trends. Last month, a baby boomer claimed Social Security retirement benefits for the first time, and this cohort will be eligible for Medicare benefits in less than 3 years. According to the Social Security Administration nearly 80 million Americans will become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits over the next two decades--an average of more than 10,000 per day. Although Social Security is important because of its size, the real driver of the long-term fiscal outlook is health care spending. Medicare and Medicaid are both large and projected to continue growing rapidly in the future.

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