Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce Fiscal Commission Bill

Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and David Perdue (R-GA) recently introduced legislation that would create a bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility every four years to put forward policies that would put our budget on a sustainable long-term course.

The commission would mirror the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Simpson-Bowles), created by President Obama to come up with a package to address the long-term debt. The co-chairs of the original commission, Alan Simpson (R-WY) and Erskine Bowles (D), founded the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a project of CRFB and a nonpartisan movement to put America on a better fiscal and economic path. Co-Chair of the Campaign to Fix the Debt and former Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) recently wrote that Simpson-Bowles was, "the best effort ever undertaken to truly get at the issues that are driving up our national debt."

Not long ago, we compared the adjustments recommended by Simpson-Bowles against policies that have been put into place since then. According to our estimates, lawmakers have enacted nearly 130 percent of the defense and nondefense discretionary cuts proposed by the Fiscal Commission through 2020. Yet they have generated less than one-third of the revenue and done so entirely through higher rates rather than pro-growth tax reform. And they have enacted only one-sixth of the savings to mandatory programs, which represented a small share of the Fiscal Commission's savings through 2020 but grew over time and was the key to long-term fiscal sustainability. In short, some of the cuts in recent years have been short-sighted and little has been done to address the core drivers of the long-term debt including fast growing mandatory spending and an inefficient tax code.

Similar to Simpson-Bowles, this new commission would be made up of 18 appointees. Six would be appointed by the President (no more than four from one political party), and three would be appointed by the majority and minority leaders of each body of Congress. The commission would be formed within the first three months of each presidential term and members would meet over the span of a year to determine the appropriate policies to balance the budget (excluding interest payments) over a ten-year period, and to improve the long-term fiscal outlook of the United States. The commission would require the support of 12 out of the 18 members to issue recommendations to Congress.

“We face some very tough choices to get our unsustainable debt under control, and it’s increasingly clear that policymakers cannot or will not address them through the regular budget process, even as the deficit is projected to begin growing again,” Maya MacGuineas, President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said. “A bipartisan commission could provide the leadership and impetus to force policymakers into action on this critical issue.”

Process reforms cannot replace the political will necessary to make tough choices to get our fiscal house in order. Nonetheless, this bill could help provide a productive framework for lawmakers to regularly consider a balanced package of changes to keep the long-term debt under control. We commend Senators Manchin, Perdue, and Kirk for putting forward this thoughtful proposal and we hope other policymakers will follow suit so we can fix our broken budget process. To learn about our ideas to reform the budget process, check out our Better Budget Process Initiative.