Daily Caller: Proposed Congressional Commission Must Protect Americans From Soaring Debt And Ruinous Tax Increases

Brittany Madni, EPIC Executive Vice President, writes in the Daily Caller:

The term “congressional commission” has lost its novelty. Congress has established over 100 congressional commissions, including several focused on major budget and economic questions. Yet the US national debt stands at $33.7 trillion and counting. As a result, empaneling a new commission (like the bipartisan debt commission Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson recently proposed) is just as likely to elicit a skeptical eyeroll as genuine optimism. 

After all, it’s nothing new. 

Congress already has the House and Senate Budget Committees to perform a comprehensive review of all federal spending and revenues (including interest) and propose policy options. Dozens of suggestions have already been offered on reducing the debt, coming from congressional offices, past administrations, academics, and think tanks. 

Nonetheless, there is renewed interest on Capitol Hill in a federal fiscal commission – and for good reason. Congress is right to focus on the debt. But to avoid the failures of the past, this commission has to be fundamentally different. 

Our national debt warrants examination, but should Congress move forward with a commission, it must serve a purpose beyond just reviewing the debt picture and reporting potential solutions. 

Right now, Congress is considering several proposals to establish a new fiscal commission, including the Huizenga-Peters Fiscal Commission Act of 2023 and the Manchin-Romney Fiscal Stability Act of 2023. They’re both bipartisan (good) and they both feature the same structure: 12 Members of Congress plus four outside experts, all chosen by House and Senate Leadership. 

Unfortunately, both bills also outline the responsibilities of the commission in a way that boxes it into the same old “solutions.” In fact, none of the commission’s stated duties in these proposals are outside Congress’s existing infrastructure and abilities. 

The commission is essentially an outlet for congressional and national fiscal frustration, but if it’s a repeat of the past, it will only worsen this frustration. There is an overwhelming – and appropriate – drive to “do something,” but putting the same people in the same rooms to squabble over the same problems will not yield different results. 

If we stop repeating past failures, what’s left to try? To answer that question, we have to consider what is lacking from the existing federal budget process framework. 

Perhaps, the fiscal commission should not spend time rehashing the jobs Congress already has committees to do. Perhaps, it should instead be redefining success. 

It could set new parameters for how we evaluate our fiscal scenario. Should we still try to balance in 10 years or abandon that as a lost cause? What’s an achievable goal for maintaining a stabilized debt-to-GDP ratio? How much interest is too much interest? (Hint: what we have now is too much interest.) 

The debt crisis is not new, but it is getting worse every day. Neither Congress nor the president has a real idea how to change this worsening trajectory. So, let’s start where most Americans start their workday: by evaluating what we actually need to do. Come up with a plan first, then act. 

Throughout history, as Economic Policy Innovation Center (EPIC) President and CEO Paul Winfree argued in his book, Congress has met budgetary challenges as they’ve arisen.

We should not expect a fiscal commission to magically produce an answer to every fiscal woe we face. What we should expect, however, is for the greatest legislative body in the world to come up with a plan to start addressing those woes. 

The Founders granted Congress Article I powers, including the power of the purse. Some have suggested that unelected experts should make recommendations and force Congress’s hand with a simple up or down vote. Congress should not allow this. 

They alone were elected to represent Americans. They alone bear the burden of protecting Americans from both soaring debt and misguided attempts to restore fiscal stability through measures that would harm families. 

Any fiscal commission must have at its heart the aim of lowering the national debt, but this cannot be achieved at the expense of the very Americans already paying the high price for it. In defining success, the commission should build a framework that drives toward economic growth, not one that crushes American families with higher taxes. 

This moment cannot be abused as a convenient excuse to increase taxes on working Americans – and only the elected representatives of the people can guard against that.

This is an invaluable opportunity for Congress – and for the country – if they seize it.

This piece was originally published in the Daily Caller on December 7, 2023.