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I helped balance the federal budget in the 1990s – here’s just how hard it will be for the GOP to achieve that same rare feat

House Speaker McCarthy wants to put the US on a path to a balanced budget as debt ceiling negotiations begin with President Biden. Here’s why it won’t…

Bill Clinton, at right, oversaw the first balanced budget since 1969, with some help from a bipartisan deal with Newt Gingrich. AP Photo/Doug Mills

Kevin McCarthy reportedly promised many things to Republican hardliners en route to clinching his job as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. One of them was a “balanced budget” in 10 years.

As part of that plan, Republicans are demanding substantial spending cuts and budget reforms in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling this year – putting the U.S. at risk of default.

But a look at the numbers – and the history – shows just how difficult balancing the budget will be.

Doing so requires the federal government to generate enough income to pay for all its spending. The U.S. has managed this feat only twice in the past 60 years – and both times involved raising taxes, something Republicans are loath to do. President Lyndon B. Johnson managed to do it in 1969, and President Bill Clinton created a surplus that ran from the fiscal years 1998 to 2001, when he left office.

As a member of the Clinton administration in the Commerce Department from 1997 to 2001, I participated in achieving that rare balanced budget and understand the obstacles to delivering a repeat performance. A quick look back at how we did it, along with how much has changed, shows that Republicans are unlikely to manage a similar performance.

How Clinton balanced the budget

When Clinton took office in 1993, the budget deficit in the previous year was just under 5% of gross domestic product, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted a bleak fiscal outlook.

Clinton’s balanced-budget recipe was a mixture of higher revenues and lower spending, with help from a booming economy. In his second term, he also negotiated a bipartisan budget deal with Republicans.

After campaigning on a pledge to cut the deficit, Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy during his first year in office. He introduced higher top personal income tax brackets, raised corporate taxes, increased taxes on Social Security benefits, added 4.3 cents per gallon onto gas taxes and eliminated a number of itemized tax deductions. On the spending side, Clinton took advantage of the “peace dividend” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union to reduce defense spending from 4.3% of GDP in 1993 to 2.9% by 2000.

These measures helped slash the overall deficit to 1.3% of GDP by the end of Clinton’s first term. That’s the smallest it had been in 22 years.

The higher taxes invited pushback from Republicans, who gained majorities in the House and Senate in 1995. Clinton wrangled continually with then-Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich, who forced a government shutdown that same year.

As part of budget negotiations, Congress eventually passed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which retained Clinton’s original tax increases but cut capital gains taxes and reduced spending on Medicare and Medicaid. Meanwhile, the economy, fueled by a tech boom, expanded rapidly during Clinton’s second term.

Higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, strong economic growth and continued restraint in government spending produced a budget surplus of US$69 billion in 1998. The surplus peaked in 2000 at $236 billion before falling to $128 billion in 2001. The surplus – which hasn’t been seen since – allowed the U.S. to pay down the national debt by over $450 billion.

Lessons for today

The lesson for Republicans today is that if they are serious about balancing the budget, it will require some very unpalatable choices.

On the spending side, so-called entitlements – mandatory programs such as Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits – now [account for almost two-thirds of the federal budget](https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-budget/introduction-to-the-federal-budget-process#:~:text=Spending.,on%20debt%20(see%20chart), compared with less than half when Clinton took office. Funding for these programs is set by formula, making it difficult to change. And the population of Americans 65 or older has grown by 32% since 1993, increasing demand for entitlements.

A group of white man clap as president Clinton sits on at desk with the words a balanced budget witten in front
When Clinton signed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, it was the first time since 1969 that the U.S. had made ends meet. Paul Richards/AFP via Getty Images

Defense spending takes up another 14% of taxpayer dollars, greatly exceeding every other item in the so-called discretionary budget, which includes everything else from transportation and energy to airline traffic control and national parks.

The U.S. spends 8% of the budget simply paying interest on the national debt. This percentage hasn’t changed much, but the debt itself has soared from $4.5 trillion in 1993 to $31 trillion today mainly because of massive tax cuts during the Bush and Trump administrations, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and vast public spending to address the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now that historically low interest rates have come to an end, the U.S. will be forced to devote a bigger slice of the pie to paying interest.

The policy nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget recently estimated that if spending on defense, veterans, Social Security and Medicare were off the table, Congress would need to reduce all other spending by 85% to get to an overall balance. In other words, simple arithmetic means it is not feasible to achieve anything close to a balanced budget without addressing military spending and entitlement programs.

Reducing military spending is always controversial – and many Republicans (as well as some Democrats) would resist such cuts – but especially so at a time when the U.S. is ramping up military aid to Ukraine and the Pentagon perceives a threat from China. It’s the very opposite of the Clinton-era peace dividend.

Cutting mandatory spending would require significant reforms. The U.S. has one of the youngest minimum retirement thresholds in the world, at age 62, compared with 65 in Canada and 67 in Britain and Germany. Even France may soon have a higher minimum retirement age of 64 – though the current protests there over increasing it from 62 illustrate the political perils of such a change.

Can they do it again?

Certainly, opportunities do exist to close the gap between income and spending.

The Congressional Budget Office has released a report outlining 76 options for reducing the deficit. But many of the ideas require further hard choices, such as rolling back some or all of the last three tax cuts, increasing taxes on the wealthy, ending or curtailing tax deductions and adopting a consumption-based value-added tax or a carbon tax, as well as fundamental reforms to entitlement programs.

Unfortunately, Congress shows limited appetite to tackle such issues.

Back in 1997, after the smoke cleared, both the Clinton administration and the Republicans in Congress were able to claim some political credit for the resulting budget surpluses. But – crucially – both parties recognized that a deal was in the best interest of the country and were able to line up their respective members to get the votes in Congress needed to approve it. The contrast with the current political landscape is stark.

The Republican Study Committee, a bloc of more than 160 conservative lawmakers, released a budget blueprint in June 2022 that promises to balance the budget in seven years. The plan proposes trillions of dollars in spending cuts, many of which would fall hardest on low-income Americans. These include shrinking Medicaid, paring veterans benefits and raising the age for full Social Security retirement benefits from 67 to 70. It also calls for higher military spending and further tax cuts – which would require even more draconian cuts to core safety net programs.

It would also lock in the Trump tax cuts of 2017 – the opposite of what the Congressional Budget Office recommends or what Clinton did in the 1990s to secure a balanced budget.

Without a credible Republican deficit-cutting plan on the table, I believe that the odds favor a protracted stand-off over the debt ceiling, which could tip the precarious U.S. economy into recession.

While Congress seems highly unlikely to allow a debt default, this brawl would waste time and energy that could be better spent on figuring out how to strengthen programs like Social Security and close tax loopholes that drain revenue.

Balancing the budget is not an end in itself. Most economists agree that governments should reduce public debt during periods of prosperity and run deficits to assist people when the economy is weak.

The U.S. was fortunate in the late 1990s to enjoy a buoyant economy that enabled Congress and the president to achieve a fiscal surplus. What the country needs now, in my view, is not more quick fixes but a sustainable pathway to stabilizing the national debt. That requires growing revenues and reducing nonessential spending in a responsible way.

Linda J. Bilmes is the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Public Finance at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University. She is affiliated with the National Academy of Public Administration, where she serves on the Board of Directors, and the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration, where she is the member for the United States. She served as the Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary and CFO of the US Department of Commerce from 1999-2001, and as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Administration and Budget from 1997-1998.

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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Another country is getting ready to launch a visa for digital nomads

Early reports are saying Japan will soon have a digital nomad visa for high-earning foreigners.

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Over the last decade, the explosion of remote work that came as a result of improved technology and the pandemic has allowed an increasing number of people to become digital nomads. 

When looked at more broadly as anyone not required to come into a fixed office but instead moves between different locations such as the home and the coffee shop, the latest estimate shows that there were more than 35 million such workers in the world by the end of 2023 while over half of those come from the United States.

Related: There is a new list of cities that are best for digital nomads

While remote work has also allowed many to move to cheaper places and travel around the world while still bringing in income, working outside of one's home country requires either dual citizenship or work authorization — the global shift toward remote work has pushed many countries to launch specific digital nomad visas to boost their economies and bring in new residents.

Japan is a very popular destination for U.S. tourists. 

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This popular vacation destination will soon have a nomad visa

Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Latvia and Malta are some of the countries currently offering specific visas for foreigners who want to live there while bringing in income from abroad.

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With the exception of a few, Asian countries generally have stricter immigration laws and were much slower to launch these types of visas that some of the countries with weaker economies had as far back as 2015. As first reported by the Japan Times, the country's Immigration Services Agency ended up making the leap toward a visa for those who can earn more than ¥10 million ($68,300 USD) with income from another country.

The Japanese government has not yet worked out the specifics of how long the visa will be valid for or how much it will cost — public comment on the proposal is being accepted throughout next week. 

That said, early reports say the visa will be shorter than the typical digital nomad option that allows foreigners to live in a country for several years. The visa will reportedly be valid for six months or slightly longer but still no more than a year — along with the ability to work, this allows some to stay beyond the 90-day tourist period typically afforded to those from countries with visa-free agreements.

'Not be given a residence card of residence certificate'

While one will be able to reapply for the visa after the time runs out, this can only be done by exiting the country and being away for six months before coming back again — becoming a permanent resident on the pathway to citizenship is an entirely different process with much more strict requirements.

"Those living in Japan with the digital nomad visa will not be given a residence card or a residence certificate, which provide access to certain government benefits," reports the news outlet. "The visa cannot be renewed and must be reapplied for, with this only possible six months after leaving the countr

The visa will reportedly start in March and also allow holders to bring their spouses and families with them. To start using the visa, holders will also need to purchase private health insurance from their home country while taxes on any money one earns will also need to be paid through one's home country.

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