CAMBRIDGE – The United States may be headed for a recession in 2013. Even if the country avoids going over the “fiscal cliff,” a poorly designed political compromise that cuts the deficit too quickly could push an already weak economy into recession. But a gradual phase-in of an overall cap on tax deductions and exclusions (so-called tax expenditures), combined with reform of entitlement spending, could achieve the long-run fiscal consolidation that America needs without risking a new recession.
The US economy has been limping along with a growth rate of less than 2% during the past year, with similarly dim prospects in 2013, even without the shock of the fiscal cliff. That is much too weak a pace of expansion to tolerate the fiscal cliff’s increase in tax rates and spending cuts, which would reduce demand by a total of $600 billion – about 4% of GDP – next year, and by larger sums in subsequent years.