Econintersect: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke appearing before the Senate Budget Committee warned the that the federal government is on an unsustainable fiscal path. He went on to testify:
Yet, as a nation, we have done little to address this critical threat to our economy. Doing nothing will not be an option indefinitely; the longer we wait to act, the greater the risks and the more wrenching the inevitable changes to the budget will be. By contrast, the prompt adoption of a credible program to reduce future deficits would not only enhance economic growth and stability in the long run, but could also yield substantial near-term benefits in terms of lower long-term interest rates and increased consumer and business confidence. Plans recently put forward by the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and other prominent groups provide useful starting points for a much-needed national conversation about our medium- and long-term fiscal situation. Although these various proposals differ on many details, each gives a sobering perspective on the size of the problem and offers some potential solutions.
Bernanke earlier stated:
However, an important part of the federal budget deficit appears to be structural rather than cyclical; that is, the deficit is expected to remain unsustainably elevated even after economic conditions have returned to normal. For example, under the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) so-called alternative fiscal scenario, which assumes that most of the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 are made permanent and that discretionary spending rises at the same rate as the gross domestic product (GDP), the deficit is projected to fall from its current level of about 9 percent of GDP to 5 percent of GDP by 2015, but then to rise to about 6-1/2 percent of GDP by the end of the decade. In subsequent years, the budget outlook is projected to deteriorate even more rapidly, as the aging of the population and continued growth in health spending boost federal outlays on entitlement programs. Under this scenario, federal debt held by the public is projected to reach 185 percent of the GDP by 2035, up from about 60 percent at the end of fiscal year 2010.
The CBO projections, by design, ignore the adverse effects that such high debt and deficits would likely have on our economy. But if government debt and deficits were actually to grow at the pace envisioned in this scenario, the economic and financial effects would be severe. Diminishing confidence on the part of investors that deficits will be brought under control would likely lead to sharply rising interest rates on government debt and, potentially, to broader financial turmoil. Moreover, high rates of government borrowing would both drain funds away from private capital formation and increase our foreign indebtedness, with adverse long-run effects on U.S. output, incomes, and standards of living.
For the complete testimony – here.