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It’s been a tough week for proponents of austerity economics—the misguided notion that government spending cuts and debt reduction magically produce economic growth. First, a team of respected mainstream economists completely discredited one of the foundational studies supporting the claim that excessive public debt holds back economic growth. Then, the International Monetary Fund—formerly a bastion of austerity economics—warned the United States that its budget cuts (including sequestration) had gone too far and would likely damage the nation’s economic growth.

Essentially, these developments repudiate the idea that high levels of public debt hurt economic growth along with the fantasy that cutting government spending help economic growth. Altogether, it’s been a bad week for austerity, as we can see below the fold….

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In the latest development in our nation’s interminable federal budget wars, both the House and Senate passed very different plans for the 2014 budget out of committee this week, and both plans now await floor action next Wednesday. The first plan, proposed by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, represents a balanced approach that includes new revenues, while the second plan—proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan—represents an irresponsible approach that gives tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans while enacting deep cuts to those public investments that help children, seniors, and the most vulnerable.

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The looming federal sequestration cuts have been all over the news recently, as the clock ticks down to the March 1 deadline imposed by the fiscal cliff deal.  While most media accounts have focused on the negative consequences these across-the-board spending cuts will have on defense programs and military communities, the cuts to federal non-defense domestic programs will also have profoundly damaging—if often underreported—impacts on the North Carolina state budget. In light of these impacts, Congress needs to repeal sequestration and replace these indiscriminant, automatic spending cuts with a balanced approach that includes at least one dollar in new revenues for every dollar of smart spending reductions and that protects the state budget.

Enacted in the Budget Control Act of 2011, these sequestration spending cuts were intended to automatically reduce funding for national defense and domestic programs like K-12 education, job training, Head Start, food inspects, and research and development by $1.2 trillion over the next decade if Congress could not find another way to reduce the federal budget deficit before December 31, 2013. Congress postponed that New Year’s deadline to March 1, and if Congress does not resolve this issue in time, North Carolina will experience $85.3 billion in sequestration cuts in 2013 alone.

According to a wide range of analysis conducted over the past two years, sequestration is expected to inflict significant damage on North Carolina’s economy and state budget. On the defense side, the cuts to Pentagon spending are estimated to cost North Carolina at least $1.5 billion in defense contracts and as much as 12,000 in job losses.  At the same time, the non-defense cuts are also expected to harm the state’s economy by reducing North Carolina’s Gross State Product by as much as $2 billion and contributing to more than 17,000 in job losses.

In a new twist on an old problem, the economic impact of these federal cuts would be magnified by the negative fiscal impacts on the state budget.  Specifically, the non-defense cuts will reduce the state’s Department of Health and Human Services budget by $35 million and education spending by $84 million—reductions that come on top of the steep cuts to state funding already enacted by the General Assembly in state FY 2011-13.

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On Wednesday, the US House voted to suspend the federal debt ceiling—the statutory limit on the amount the US Treasury can borrow to finance existing obligations—until May, backpedaling on previous threats to withhold the debt limit increase unless Congress and the White House agreed to significant cuts in federal spending.  As a result, Congress managed to avoid default and a potential financial crisis that risked the nation’s creditworthiness and economic recovery. At the same time, however, House leaders promised to use three additional chokepoints in the budget process as leverage to secure their ultimate objective—deficit reduction based entirely on unspecified but dramatic reductions in federal spending and the transformation of entitlement programs Social Security and Medicare.

Although achieving a sustainable course for the national debt is clearly important to putting our nations’ fiscal house in order, any deficit reduction plan must take a balanced approach that includes new revenues (beyond the first step achieved in the Fiscal Cliff deal) and strategic spending cuts that do not disproportionately impact working families or damage state budgets.

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As of this posting, a deal between Congress and the White House appears to emerging to resolve the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the expiration of $5 trillion in tax cuts signed under Presidents Bush and Obama, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration,” the cessation of Unemployment Insurance for unemployed workers, and the expiration of various other tax policies, including the 2010 payroll tax cut and a range of business tax credits.

While nothing has been finalized (and indeed could easily unravel over the next few hours), the emerging deal represents a mixed bag for the nation’s working and middle-income families—it extends a range of key middle-class tax cuts, but at the same time, continues large-scale tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans—and as a result—keeps the door open for spending cuts devastating to many working families.

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