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House Budget Committee advances bill to create fiscal commission

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The House Budget Committee passed a bill Thursday to create a bipartisan fiscal commission designed to keep the federal government from going broke.

The Committee passed H.R. 5779, the Fiscal Commission Act of 2023, with bipartisan support. Passage of the bill marked the first time the House Budget Committee had passed bipartisan legislation outside of budget resolutions in more than a decade, said House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington, R-Texas.

At the end of 2023, federal debt held by the public stood at 98% of the nation’s gross domestic product. The Congressional Budget Office projected in 2023 that the nation’s debt would exceed its historical high in 2029 when it hits 107% of GDP. It is expected to climb to 181% of GDP by 2053.

“No leader worth their salt can see those stunning numbers and not be shaken to their core and cannot be stirred in their spirit to do everything they can to make sure that we don’t bankrupt the greatest country in the history of humanity,” Arrington said during a news conference.

As U.S. debt stands at $34 trillion, the measure would create a fiscal commission that would aim to improve the federal government’s financial situation and eventually put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path. The fiscal commission would also have to “propose recommendations designed to balance the budget at the earliest reasonable date, including at minimum stabilizing the debt-to-GDP ratio at or below 100%” within 10 years of its creation.

U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., said that as a Democrat it would have been easy for him to vote against the fiscal commission. But Panetta said he was inspired to support the measure based on leadership from both Republicans and Democrats.

“Look, I think we can realize is that if we don’t do anything, what we’re going to see as a debt and deficit be corrosive on our economy, and that can lead to an economic crisis,” he said.

Panetta also urged the full House and Senate to pass the bill.

Former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, a member of the Main Street Economics Advisory Board, said Democrats and Republicans must continue to work together.

“Having support from both sides of the aisle adds even more impetus towards making a commission a reality,” he said. “A fiscal commission will create the necessary procedures that would allow our leaders to take a holistic view of the federal budget and then identify potential spending and revenue reforms.

“As the country continues its series of continuing funding resolutions, today’s vote provides strong momentum towards implementation of a long-term, forward-thinking solution to ensuring our nation’s fiscal sustainability.”

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, applauded the vote.

“A bipartisan fiscal commission would give the country’s dire fiscal situation the proper attention it deserves,” she said. “In the last two decades, the national debt has tripled as a share of the economy, and modest surpluses at the start of the millennium have been replaced with $2 trillion annual deficits.

“We’re headed towards uncharted territory if we don’t do something soon. Interest on the debt is already the fastest-growing part of the budget and more than we spend on children or Medicaid.”

Interest costs on the country’s debt increased 23% to $879 billion in fiscal 2023, a record high. Interest costs accounted for 14% of total federal spending as of September 2023. The cost of maintaining that debt is expected to grow.

The Congressional Budget Office released projections in June 2023 that showed interest costs would “exceed all mandatory spending other than that for the major health care programs and Social Security by 2027, all discretionary outlays by 2047, and all spending on Social Security by 2051.”

Michael Peterson, CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, called Thursday’s vote a step forward.

“Committee passage of the Fiscal Commission Act is an important step toward a comprehensive approach to stabilizing our rapidly growing national debt,” he said in a statement. “It is especially encouraging that this bill passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans on the committee, adding to the growing momentum for a commission.”

The last major fiscal commission, the U.S. National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly referred to as Simpson-Bowles for co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, first met in 2010. It recommended a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, but the full framework was never implemented. A move to bring the proposals to Congress for a vote fell short.

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