Establishing a Fiscal Commission Could Help Reduce Federal Spending | Citizens Against Government Waste

Establishing a Fiscal Commission Could Help Reduce Federal Spending

The WasteWatcher

The latest effort to set up a commission to bring the national debt under control has picked up steam in the House and Senate.  On November 29, 2023, House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) convened a hearing to examine several proposals for a bipartisan fiscal commission. 

The hearing focused primarily on H.R. 5779, the Fiscal Commission Act, introduced on September 29, 2023 by Reps. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) and Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and S. 3262, the Fiscal Stability Act, introduced on November 9, 2023 by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).  Both bills would create a 16-member bipartisan, bicameral commission to find comprehensive legislative solutions to stabilize and reduce the nation's ballooning debt burden.  At $33.7 trillion and counting, the nation’s unsustainable fiscal path has become an urgent concern for policymakers, economists, and taxpayers. 

The bills would require the commissioners to consider spending cuts and structural reforms and then produce concrete legislative proposals to stabilize the public debt-to-GDP ratio and ensure the solvency of federal trust funds over a 75-year period.  While significant reductions in spending should account for the greatest steps toward fiscal sustainability, tax increases may also be proposed. 

H.R. 5779 imposes a deadline of May 1, 2025, for the commission to produce a report and proposed legislation which would automatically receive expedited, or “fast-track” consideration by both chambers of Congress.  S. 3262 has a deadline of November 15, 2024.  The Senate bill requires the commission’s recommendations to stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio by 2034 and the House bill requires that result by 2039.  The Senate bill requires a majority vote of all commissioners, both members of Congress and outside appointees, to send recommendations to Congress, but the House bill requires majority agreement only of the commissioners who are members of Congress. Otherwise, the companion bills are substantively identical. 

Sen. Romney testified that the proposed commission would not fail like the Simpson-Bowles commission of 2010 because of the increased sense of urgency to address the nation’s fiscal crisis. There was a 60 percent debt-to-GDP ratio in 2010, and there is now a 124 percent debt-to-GDP ratio.  Total debt has more than doubled over the last decade, and interest payments are projected to cost more than all discretionary spending combined. 

One of the few successful spending commissions, President Reagan’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, more commonly known as the Grace Commission, issued recommendations to save taxpayers $424.4 billion over three years.  The commission was chaired by J. Peter Grace, who co-founded Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) with journalist Jack Anderson in 1984 to follow up on the implementation of the Grace Commission’s recommendations.  To date, Grace Commission and other waste-cutting proposals promoted by CAGW have helped to save taxpayers $2.4 trillion.  One of the more successful examples of those savings was the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC).  Between 1988 and 2005, the commission systematically reviewed American military facilities worldwide and produced recommendations for the closure and consolidation of duplicative and unnecessary bases, saving the Department of Defense $12 billion annually. 

There has not been another comprehensive review of the federal government since the Grace Commission report was released.   In 1994, then-Rep. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) proposed a Commission on the Accountability and Review of Federal Agencies (CARFA) to scrutinize all federal agencies to identify programs as duplicative, wasteful, inefficient, outdated, irrelevant, or failed.  The proposed commission would submit its recommendations to Congress on which agencies and programs to consolidate or eliminate and, like the fiscal commission proposal in front of Congress today, it would introduce legislation to implement these reforms via an expedited up-or-down vote on the entire package.  When Rep. Brownback was elected to the Senate, he introduced CARFA in three consecutive Congresses, and Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) introduced a companion bill in the House.  The closest that CARFA came to passing either the House or Senate was in the 109th Congress, when the House Committee on Government Reform passed and reported H.R. 5766, which incorporated many of the provisions of the CARFA bill, but it was never considered on the floor of the House.  

When President Reagan established the Grace Commission, the national debt had yet to reach $2 trillion.  Surely a bipartisan group of legislators can agree that a similar commission has become an unavoidable necessity as the country approaches $34 trillion in debt, and budget projections show it will reach $46.7 trillion in 10 years.  

The proposed fiscal commissions, particularly the Senate version, provide a valuable opportunity for lawmakers to develop a serious bipartisan reform package to avert a fiscal crisis and salvage the nation’s future.  For their constituents’ sake, lawmakers cannot afford to ignore the ballooning national debt or continue their irresponsible spending.  The Fiscal Stability Act and Fiscal Commission Act of 2023 would make the first welcome steps toward fiscal discipline and sustainable economic growth. 

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