Austerity is like a bad tattoo: It's going to be with us, causing misery, for years to come.
The broad spending cuts that were the fruits of the Republican Congress' budget obsession of the past few years have already cost the U.S. economy $351 billion in lost economic activity, according to a new study by the Center for American Progress. This austerity will cost a total of $633 billion by the year 2020, according to the study. Here's a chart from CAP to help put it in perspective:
"Congress has severely damaged the economy with deep spending cuts in a misguided attempt to solve a short-term debt crisis that simply does not exist," wrote CAP economists Harry Stein and Adam Hersh.
The progressive think tank's analysis is based on the latest budget outlook from the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan congressional research group, which was released on Tuesday.
The CBO found that, despite relentless panic about supposedly out-of-control government spending, the long-term path of federal debt has dramatically improved lately. You can see that in this second CAP chart, showing the CBO forecast for the ratio of federal debt to gross domestic product:
Budget cuts have probably helped bring down the long-term debt outlook a bit. But an improving economy has helped much more, by raising tax revenue and dramatically shrinking the government's annual budget deficit.
The CAP study is the latest in a series of studies tallying the costs of austerity. The long and short of it: Less austerity in the short term would have meant more growth, less unemployment and an even faster-shrinking deficit in the long term.