Federal Debt: The Baseline and Options for Reform

Alex Brill, Andrew G. Biggs, and Sita Nataraj Slavov | AEI Event

Event Summary

On May 13, experts convened at AEI to discuss the United States’ fiscal trajectory: how we got here, where we’re going, and what we can do to reduce the burden of debt for future generations. To set the stage, the Congressional Budget Office’s Phillip Swagel described the “daunting” fiscal situation the US faces, a description which Alan J. Auerbach of the Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance described as “optimistic.” Industry economists then discussed how higher federal debt will likely affect household investment and consumption decisions.

The next panel, including AEI’s Sita Nataraj Slavov and Andrew G. Biggs, delved into Social Security. In a wide-ranging conversation, panelists compared the US retirement system to that of other developed nations, how the current high-deficit environment complicates reform options, and Dr. Biggs’s controversial proposal to roll back the federal tax break for retirement savings.

Kent Smetters of the Penn Wharton Budget Model then described the history of budget projection methodologies and where improvements have been made over time, including his team’s innovative microsimulation model.

The final panel, featuring AEI’s Alex Brill, discussed reform options available to improve the fiscal trajectory, including increases to IRS funding and various changes to the tax code.

—John Mantus

Event Description

With federal debt levels reaching unprecedented heights, deficits continuing to grow, and insolvencies of major federal spending programs like Medicare and Social Security looming on the horizon, concern is mounting across the political spectrum about the United States’ fiscal trajectory. How did we get here? How does this affect the economy? And what can we do about it?

In a conference co-organized by AEI, the Penn Wharton Budget Model, the Brookings Institution, and the Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance, experts from academia, government, and industry will discuss the federal government’s current fiscal track, its causes and consequences, and what can be done to put us back on a sustainable path.


8:30 a.m.

9:00 a.m.
Susan Guthrie, Managing Director, Penn Wharton Budget Model, University of Pennsylvania

9:05 a.m.
Discussion: The Growing Debt: Fiscal and Economic Challenges

Alan J. Auerbach, Director, Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance, University of California, Berkeley
Phillip Swagel, Director, Congressional Budget Office

9:40 a.m.

9:50 a.m.

10:00 a.m.
Panel I: A View from the Street

Michael Feroli, Chief Economist, JPMorgan
Michelle Meyer, Chief Economist, Mastercard
Torsten Slok, Chief Economist, Apollo

Lisa Abramowicz, Cohost, Bloomberg Surveillance, Bloomberg Television

10:50 a.m.

11:00 a.m.
Panel II: Social Security

Andrew G. Biggs, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Louise Sheiner, Robert S. Kerr Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
Sita Nataraj Slavov, Nonresident Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

Shai Akabas, Executive Director, Economic Policy Program, Bipartisan Policy Center

11:40 a.m.

11:50 a.m.

12:00 p.m.
Lunch Session: The Modern Life Cycle Approach for Analyzing Fiscal Policy

Kent Smetters, Director, Penn Wharton Budget Model, University of Pennsylvania

Alan J. Auerbach, Director, Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance, University of California, Berkeley

12:55 p.m.

1:05 p.m.

1:15 p.m.
Panel III: Reform Options

Alex Brill, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Wendy Edelberg, Director, Hamilton Project, Brookings Institution
William G. Gale, Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Federal Economic Policy, Brookings Institution

George A. Callas, Executive Vice President of Public Finance, Arnold Ventures

2:15 p.m.

2:30 p.m.
Closing Remarks
Kent Smetters, Director, Penn Wharton Budget Model, University of Pennsylvania

2:45 p.m.

Related Content

The Case for Using Subsidies for Retirement Plans to Fix Social Security
Andrew G. Biggs and Alicia H. Munnell | Center for Retirement Research at Boston College | January 17, 2024

Making Tough Fiscal Choices to Protect Future Generations
Sita Nataraj Slavov | Peter G. Peterson Foundation | November 13, 2023

Discussing the Debt Crisis: Alex Brill on The Price of Business
Alex Brill | The Price of Business | May 10, 2023

Find more on the event here.