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The Fiscal Democracy Index

Column: The U.S. is broke. Here's why. - Opinion - “For the first time in U.S. history, in 2009 every single dollar of revenue was committed before Congress voted on any spending program. Meanwhile, most of government's basic functions — from justice to education to turning on the lights in the Capitol — are paid for out of swelling, unsustainable deficits.”

In USA TODAY’s Opinion section (01/27/2010), Gene Steuerle presents what he called the “Steuerle-Roeper Fiscal Democracy Index” (see the graph below), which shows how much of current revenues remain after taking account of commitments by law to the programs and ideas of the past — even dead — policymakers.

Steuerle argues that the excessive use of federal mandatory spending is “bad economics.” With long-term political promises tying up our hands, we miss out on opportunities to use the money more wisely. “The hogtying fiscal democracy” is bad politics, too. The bind created by past presidents and Congresses has hamstrung President Obama, who have to “pay a political price up front” to take back some past promises to gain much-needed flexibility to address current needs.



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Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs