November 1, 2014

Fiscal Commissions

Today's budget policies threaten future generations' ability to determine their own priorities and to address unforseen economic challenges.  Yet Congress seems unable to deal with the impending crises.  A bipartisan commission might break this gridlock and serve as a credible marker for Congress and the President. 

In The Concord Coalition’s view, any non-traditional effort to bring about action, such as a congressional task force as proposed by Senators Conrad (D-ND) and Gregg (R-NH) or a commission as proposed by Representatives Cooper (D-TN) and Wolf (R-VA), should have five elements to succeed:

  • First, it must be truly bipartisan. Any perception that the purpose is to facilitate swift enactment of a partisan agenda would doom it to failure. It should have bipartisan co-chairs and equal representation.
  • Second, it must have a broad mandate. While it is critical to control the growth of entitlements, particularly Medicare and Social Security, the task force or commission should examine all aspects of fiscal policy.
  • Third, there must be no preconditions. If either side sets preconditions, the other side will not participate.
  • Fourth, it must engage the public. In Concord’s experience, when people are armed with the facts and given the opportunity for honest dialogue, they are willing to set priorities and make hard choices. Moreover, it seems highly unlikely that the public would react well to a reform package for which it was unprepared.
  • Fifth, its recommendations should be voted on in Congress. Absent this element, the report would likely join many others on a shelf.

In the ideal world, we would not need another commission to tell us things most people in Washington already know. Moreover, elected leaders — not an appointed commission — must make the ultimate decisions. However, a commission with a broad mandate and no preconditions could break the partisan gridlock and develop a credible marker for action. 

Click here for Questions and Answers about fiscal commissions.

Other Resources

A few years ago, The Concord Coalition convened scholars and government officials to discuss past commissions to see what worked, what did not, and what we can do next.  So will it take a commission to break the stalemate?  Read more and decide for yourself.

  • Concord Coalition event at the National Press Club: "Does It Take A Commission" transcript. 
  • Washington Post Op-Ed from Concord Coalition Co-Chairs Warren Rudman and Bob Kerrey on the criteria needed for a successful commission
  • Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert Bixby's testimony before the Senate Budget Committee hearing on the Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action Act of 2007 
  • February 25th press release from the Bipartisan Policy Center's Debt Reduction Task Force