The House Budget Committee advanced legislation that would create a bipartisan fiscal commission to come up with a solution to the government’s worsening budget outlook and propose it to Congress for expedited action.
Many Democrats oppose the plan, but three on the Budget Committee crossed over to join Republicans in approving the bill, 22-12. They included Scott Peters, D-Calif., who co-wrote the bill with sponsor Bill Huizenga, R-Mich.
“This is a way to get started,” Peters said of a commission. He argued that relying on “regular order” in Congress to set the government’s fiscal trajectory on the right path would fail.
“Regular order is the congressional Bigfoot,” Peters said. “We’re all told it exists and none of us has ever seen it.”
The bill would create a 16-member fiscal commission evenly divided between House and Senate members and Republicans and Democrats, and including four nonvoting members from outside Congress.
The commission would be charged with writing a report and legislation to improve the long-term fiscal condition of the government, reduce deficits and debt, achieve a sustainable ratio of debt to gross domestic product by fiscal 2039, and improve the solvency of federal trust funds, including those that finance Social Security and Medicare.
In a press conference following the markup, Budget Chairman Jodey C. Arrington, R-Texas, said Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., is “100 percent committed to this commission” and wants to attach a bill to final fiscal 2024 appropriations legislation.
“I think, in this environment, probably that’s its best chance of success, but I also think it’s most germane to attach it to our final funding bill,” Arrington said.
“We wanted to give the speaker every option,” Arrington said in explaining the timing of the vote. “So we passed it so that we can give it to him as he negotiates further with the Senate and with the president.”
‘Cut Social Security Commission’
Democrats oppose the bill in large part because they see it as a vehicle to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Brendan F. Boyle, R-Pa., the ranking member on the committee, has long argued that no commission is needed because, as he said at the markup, at the “end of the day, regardless of process, it comes down to” lawmakers to make a decision on raising revenue, cutting spending or a combination of both.
He said Social Security and Medicare trust funds need more revenue. And he added, “There are absolutely those who who are getting ready to use the commission as a backdoor way to force through unpopular cuts.”
“There is a real concern out there that this commission will be called the ‘Cut Social Security Commission,'” Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, added.
Democrats Jimmy Panetta of California and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon voted for the bill along with Peters.
“We’ve lost the political will to rein in our growing deficits and spiraling debt,” Panetta said.
Blumenauer, who is retiring, said it’s possible a commission can do some good. But he added, “It’s no substitute for Congress not doing its job.”
The panel adopted by voice vote a substitute amendment offered by Arrington, adding a requirement in the bill for the commission to conduct a national outreach campaign to increase the public’s awareness of the fiscal situation.
The amendment also specifies that the four outside members of the commission would not have the right to vote.
Approving a legislative proposal would require a majority of the 12 lawmakers on the commission, with at least two appointed by Republicans and two appointed by Democrats in that majority.
Democrats offered four amendments aimed at protecting Social Security and Medicare from cuts, and encouraging higher taxes on the rich and corporations and more funding for the IRS.
Peters and Panetta joined Republicans in voting against all four amendments, which all other Democrats supported.
The commission has a deadline of Dec. 12, 2024, to issue a report and propose legislation. If more time is required, the deadline can be extended to May 15, 2025, if a majority of the commission approves. If the commission approves legislation, each chamber is required to vote on it without amendment. Despite expedited procedures, final passage in the Senate would require a 60-vote threshold.
The panel easily approved two other related bills on voice votes Thursday.
One, authored by Lloyd K. Smucker, R-Pa., and Jared Golden, D-Maine, would require the debt-to-GDP ratio, one measure of fiscal sustainability, to be included in the president’s annual budget submission and any congressional budget resolution.
Blake D. Moore, R-Utah, sponsored the other bill, which would require an annual joint meeting from Congress to hear a report from the Comptroller General on the fiscal condition of the government.
Golden, who represents a large swath of his state that backed former President Donald Trump in 2020, isn’t on the committee but he’s a co-sponsor of the Peters-Huizenga bill. He appeared with Arrington and others at the post-markup press conference to tout the measure.
The press-shy Golden, whose seat is rated Lean Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, pointed out how unusual his presence at the media event was.
“You probably know I don’t do press conferences like this,” Golden said. “I don’t generally come to these types of things, and the fact that I’m here speaks to how important I think this issue is.”
David Lerman contributed to this report.