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Federal forecasters: Budget gap to top $1.6T this year, growing another $1T over next decade

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The federal budget gap is expected to top $1.6 trillion this year and grow by another $1 trillion over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

In its latest 10-year outlook for the federal budget and the economy, the federal forecaster said the widening deficit, or the difference between how much money the government spends and takes in, is largely driven by a greater share of federal spending on net interest costs, an aging population, and higher spending on mandatory programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Federal spending on net interest costs, in particular, is ballooning. Beginning next year, the amount of money that the government spends on servicing federal debt is expected to be greater in relation to the size of the economy than at any other point since 1940, according to the budget office.

CBO’s deficit projections are still lower than last year’s estimate, thanks in part to the bipartisan debt limit deal Congress passed last summer, greater economic output and stagnant government funding more than four months into fiscal 2024.

Relative to the size of the economy, federal debt is expected to rise from 99 percent this year to 116 percent of GDP in the next decade, blowing past its historical high and skyrocketing to 172 percent of GDP by 2054.

Those debt projections are lower than the budget office’s past forecast, as well. Last year CBO predicted the debt-to-GDP ratio could reach 129 percent of GDP within a decade, and 192 percent within 30 years.

On the heels of a now-doomed border security deal in the Senate that sought to curb immigration, the budget office also notes that higher immigration is contributing to a bigger workforce, boosting economic growth and increasing revenue by about $1 trillion over a decade. CBO expects a surge in immigration to last through 2026, and projects that the labor force will have 5.2 million more people in 2033 compared to the agency’s projections last year.

The economy “grew strongly” in 2023, compared with the previous year, CBO notes. The budget office also said inflation should continue slowing this year, in line with the Federal Reserve’s long-run goal of 2 percent, while the central bank is expected to reduce interest rates in the coming months. Inflation then “ticks up” slightly in 2025, the budget office predicts, before falling slightly.

Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.