The Congressional Budget Office, known to most people as the CBO, is an agency in the legislative branch of the United States Government tasked with providing economic projections on legislative proposals. The CBO is ostensibly nonpartisan, and was first created near the end of the Nixon administration in the Budget Control Act of 1974.
One of the most well known repeated publications by the Congressional Budget Office is their annual econ0mic projections report, known as the Economic and Budget Outlook. The CBO also issues reports predicting the effects of the current President’s budget proposals, and provides a mid-year update on the budget outlook.
The Economic and Budget Outlook Projections
We concern ourselves in this article with the Economic and Budget Outlook, which is generally published in January or February. That document establishes baseline predictions on many economic values – but most importantly, from our perspective, on the total size of Government Outlays and Government Revenues in a given year (the difference between those being the Government Surplus or Deficit) and the prediction for total economic outlook, given in GDP.
Since 1996, those predictions have taken the form of a one year “Estimate” followed by 10 years of projections. Take the current report, for example – it gives predictions for 2013 outlays and revenues, followed by projections of budgetary effects through 2023. The CBO can’t model every possibility, but they do roll in current law and sometimes make projections for various possibilities – such as two inflation estimates (seen more in the earlier reports).
A History of CBO Revenue Projections, Graphed Against Actual Results
Today’s (massive) effort: Revenue projections since 1976. We’ll roll out Outlays and the Surplus/Deficit as time and schedule permits.
Warning: there is a ton of data encapsulated in this chart. If you flip to the line graph beware it might take your computer a minute or more to load the chart.
The above visualization encapsulates every single revenue estimate made by the CBO since 1976. It’s a motion chart – in the bar and bubble graph sections you can drag the timeline to see how the actual revenue lined up with projections. You can follow individual projections by checking the boxes on the right side. If you hit the ‘Play’ triangle, you can see a quick overview of projections over time.
It’s not that bad getting data through like 1997… but once you get to that point, the PDFs are OCR’d scans and not totally searchable. Mercifully, most of the earlier reports had only 5 years of projections, so it minimized my typing.
My methodology was straightforward – grab the three predictions on Government spending (including deficit), and toss it in the motion chart. I spent a good three hours collating data on a Sunday morning which my mother-in-law was here (don’t worry, she approves of this work). When in doubt, I picked the ‘first’ estimate – so for the earlier reports which laid out two paths, I picked whatever estimate was listed first. That means you’re getting Baseline Scenarios, and not Alternative Fiscal Scenarios.
I’ve got the Outlays and Surplus/Deficits built… but the editorial schedule can’t bear 3 CBO articles in a week (unless, you know, I start writing 2 articles a day. Won’t be happening anytime soon).
If these look weird, blame Google:
1995: http://www.cbo.gov/publication/15689 (* End of 5 year projections)
1978: http://www.cbo.gov/publication/21328 (Dec, ’77)
1977: http://www.cbo.gov/publication/21376 (Dec, ’76, using extended inflation expectation)
1976: http://www.cbo.gov/publication/21058 (Path A, 6% GNP Growth, TQ Estimate: 86, 101.7)