December 9th, 2009
06:00 PM ET
6 months ago

Leading Senators call for fiscal commission

Sens. Gregg and Conrad are proposiing a bipartisan task force that would help Congress tackle runaway growth in federal spending.
Sens. Gregg and Conrad are proposiing a bipartisan task force that would help Congress tackle runaway growth in federal spending.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - The push to address the United States' long-term fiscal problems - and to remove the debate from the partisanship in Congress - took a step forward Wednesday.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and the committee's top Republican, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., introduced legislation that would create a bipartisan task force charged with making recommendations to Congress for reining in runaway spending growth that threatens to overwhelm the federal budget.

Noting that the country's debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is on track to double by 2019, and grow more than three times that size thereafter, Conrad told reporters, "there is not a serious observer who would conclude that that is a sustainable circumstance for the United States."

The commission's main goal would be to figure out what the country needs to do to get its budget back on a more balanced track.

Specifically, the commission would suggest ways to curb spending growth - especially in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - and to boost tax revenue.

Conrad said the task force would have 18 members - 16 from Congress, evenly divided between both parties, and two from the administration, including the Treasury secretary.

The commission's report would be due after the 2010 elections. And at least 14 of the 18 members must agree to the report's recommendations before submitting it to Congress.

Congress would then have to vote yes or no to the commission'ssuggestions without filibustering or amending them. And they would need to do so before Dec. 31, 2010. To pass, the recommendations would need to garner at least 60 votes in the Senate and a 60% majority of votes in the House.

Conrad said the bill so far has 27 co-sponsors in the Senate - including 12 Democrats and 15 Republicans.

A similar bill, with 104 co-sponsors, was introduced in the House by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., in March.

Supporters say the value of the commission is that it would protect the already difficult process of putting the country's fiscal house in order from the negative effects of partisanship in Congress - regardless of which party is in power.

"We know policy gets destroyed at the starting line," Gregg said. "The minute you put up an idea it gets attacked by somebody from some side ... but in a way that poisons the well so that the idea cannot be moved forward in any constructive way."

Americans won't accept difficult changes "that they don't deem to be absolutely fair and bipartisan. We have to join hands and jump off the cliff together on these policy issues," he said.

Critics of such a commission call it "undemocratic."

"The American people are likely to view any kind of expedited procedure, where most members are sidelined to a single take-it-or-leave-it vote, as a hidden process aimed at eviscerating vital programs and productive investment," opponents of a deficit commission wrote to leaders of the House and Senate and to President Obama.

The letter was signed by 30 national organizations, including two union groups - the AFL-CIO and AFSCME - as well as Progressive Democrats of America, the National Organization for Women, the NAACP and Alliance for Retired Persons.

It's not clear when or whether the Conrad-Gregg proposal could come up for a vote. Conrad said he's been pressing the case with the Senate leadership and the administration.

But neither has made a commitment yet.

"Senator Reid agrees with Senator Conrad about the need to address our nation's long term fiscal challenges. The administration is considering alternative approaches for moving forward, and related discussions are ongoing," a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.

A group of lawmakers have threatened to withhold votes for a needed increase to the debt ceiling unless a proposal for a fiscal task force is included in the legislation.

The debt ceiling - a legal limit on the amount of outstanding public debt that the United States is allowed to have - is currently set at $12.104 trillion. As of Monday, the country's debt total was $12.086 trillion.

Conrad said that Treasury had informed him the debt ceiling is likely to be pierced by Dec. 31. There are measures Treasury can take to ward off breaching that ceiling if lawmakers don't vote for an increase in time, but those measures aren't likely to cover more than a few weeks.

If supporters of a bipartisan commission can't get their proposal attached to a debt-ceiling vote, then they may only agree to a very short-term increase to the ceiling, thereby creating another opportunity to include the proposal in a second debt-ceiling vote.

"[Introduction of the proposal] is being timed in a way to give a maximum chance to succeed at something that is an enormous and extraordinarily difficult undertaking," Conrad said. "If we think health care reform has been difficult, you haven't seen anything yet until you try to deal with the long-term debt circumstance threat facing this country."


Filed under: Judd Gregg • Kent Conrad • national debt
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. ICARE

    Yeah,,, Yeah..yeah... get rid of :

    #1 Tax cuts for the top 1%
    #2 Un-necessary war fundings
    #3 Control healthcare to have companies stop making us pay $100.00 a pill
    #4 Change FDA rules to fuel brining new cheaper products...

    December 9, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  2. Kate in SW Fla

    This has been put off since 1994. We MUST do it. If we do not, we are doomed. Period.

    December 9, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  3. Matt

    Good. Hope they succeed.

    That said, Obama is still planning on using the $200B of TARP funds that were paid back for his own special projects. The stimulus is already lining pockets of those that have supported this corrupt organization. In Ohio, the areas that voted Obama received 85% of the funds.... Corrupt.

    December 9, 2009 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  4. Dan, TX

    A commission to make "RECOMMENDATIONS" !!!!!!!!
    What a waste of time and money.
    CONGRESS DO your JOB.

    America, elect the people who will do a good job. We have no one to blame except ourselves. Don't blame the government, we are the government.

    December 9, 2009 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  5. Dale

    After 20 years of the Republican's Vodoo Economics we really don't want their input.

    December 9, 2009 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  6. They call me "tater salad"

    Kinda funny how their coming up with this idea now that there's mid term elections just around the corner.......Let the grandstanding and pandering begin............I'm convinced that our farce Government is made up of nothing more than "snake in the grass" type used car salesmen that will say and do anything, with a big she-it eating grin on their face, just to make the sale........"Beam me up Scotty".......This place sux!!!!!

    December 9, 2009 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  7. disgusted independent

    wow, what a surprise, all the special interest groups want a seat at the table to fix the financial problems of this country. good luck with that one, ignore them congress, for the sake of your own re-election.

    December 9, 2009 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  8. m smith

    Good luck to them . It would be nice to see both parties working togeather on something.

    December 9, 2009 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  9. Retired US Army Officer - Kansas

    Recommendations for reining in the budget. The President proposes a budget, Congress decides what they are going to fund and how they are going to fund it. Want to look at the cause of run away deficit spending, look to congress, both Democrates and Republican who for the past 8 years have failed to live up t o their responsiblities which included saying no to a President who took a balance budget, a federal surplus and bankrupted the nation .

    December 9, 2009 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  10. Perusing-through

    STUPID CONRAD AND GREGG: "Specifically, the commission would suggest ways to curb spending growth – especially in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – and to boost tax revenue". WHAT???

    The national debt and spending occurred doing Bush/Cheney leadership and Republican control congress the previous 8-years. When Cheney gave his corporate buddies at Haliburton and other companies "no-bid" contract for a war in Iraq over WMDs that were not there, then the national debt went from a Bill Clinton surplus to a $7.5 TRILLON dollar cost and NOBODY SAID A THING!!!

    December 9, 2009 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  11. liberals hate America and vice versa

    They're wasting their time...did they forget who's in charge of congress right now? Democrats are like teen-agers with their parents credit card....spend, spend, spend...as long as it's other people's money!

    December 9, 2009 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  12. Craig H Easton, PA

    I strongly support this effort. While I believe that we had to do some extraordinary spending to ward off the danger of Depression and to set the country on the right path for the future, we have to address this systemic inbalance. I don't think there is any other way to successfully address SS and Medicare without demagougery getting in the way from both sides. My only concern is that the commission has to be open to both revenue increases and spending cuts.

    And can we please stop whining about passing debt to our kids. Global warming and educational improvements as well as green energy jobs aren't going to benefit me nearly as much as they benefit my kids and their kids. So I'm not totally set against passing on some debt. But we've been living too high off the hog of late and have to make some sacrifices; especially those of us who are economic "winners" based on what this country provided us.

    December 9, 2009 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  13. Jokes aside!

    The Republicans set the house on fire trying to cook an egg!!. How I wish American society excercise face saving because for another 8 years no Republican should appear in public or most of them could have gone hara kiri!!!

    December 9, 2009 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  14. JES

    Just balance the budget and stop trying to spend more money on more programs when we don't have the money.

    Makes you think can they balance their own check book.

    December 9, 2009 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  15. dustin

    We have nearly 1000 military bases over seas, and hundreds of thousands of government employees and soldiers at these bases, maybe if we weren't such an empire, we would have more money for domestic issues or just less of a deficit.

    December 9, 2009 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  16. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    These cowards didn't say anything to Bush. I have no respect for cowards and that's exactly what they are, cowards.

    December 9, 2009 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  17. USN

    Kennedy cut tax and increased rev, Reagan cut tax and increased rev. Bush cut tax and increased rev . Roosevelt in creased tax and the depression lasted til 46 . Obama ,,,,, weeelll this will last till he is gone.

    December 9, 2009 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  18. ThinkAgain

    We wouldn't have this financial mess if it weren't for Reagan's tinkle-down, voodoo economic policies, deregulation of the financial industry (so naive to think letting gambling-addicted investment bankers have access to savings funds!) and GW Bush's irresponsible, wartime tax cuts for the wealthy.

    Here are a couple simple things that will help get our country's fiscal house in order:

    1. Eliminate the FICA tax cap on income above $90,000. This would generate a huge source of funds. (Right now, no FICA is paid on individual income above $90,000.)

    2. Change the top tax rate to what it was under Ronald Reagan: 39%. Right now, the top rate is 36%; people making higher incomes can afford to pay an additional 3%.

    Are these "taxes on the rich?" Yes, they are. And the wealthy can certainly afford it. After all, it's the least they can do for the country that has given them the opportunity to create their wealth in the first place.

    December 9, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  19. Barbara

    A very undemocratic process in discussion here. I smell an attempt to undermine the power of Congress here.

    December 9, 2009 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  20. Second Week of Advent- symbolic of Peace...Blessed be the peacemakers for their's is the Kingdom of Heaven

    You may want to read the Manhattan Declaration....
    These are scary times....and the guise things are going under are even scarier.....

    December 9, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  21. scott

    stop all forign aide until the books are balanced.

    December 9, 2009 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  22. Mike, formerly from Syracuse

    Obama has created an annual debt in his first year that is triple the worst debt under Bush. If this man is allowed to stay in office for 8 years, there will be nothing left of America but a third world country full of illegal aliens.

    December 9, 2009 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  23. Bob in Pa

    Let spend some more money that we don't have to tell us that we are already spending too much ?

    December 9, 2009 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  24. Reaganomics Leads To Feudalism

    Where was this "fiscal comission" when we were in the process of wasting a trillion dollars on an unnecesary military invasion and occupation of a foreign country that posed absolutely no threat to us whatsoever?

    HYPOCRITES!

    December 9, 2009 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  25. Party Purity will never bring Political Power!

    I thought we a commission called Congress to do exactly what this "blue ribbon" commission is supposed to do.

    They want to take 18 current Congressional members and 2 from the administration?

    Are they then going to night school and get a degree in Econ 101 or Finance? If not, then what will they bring to the "commission" that do not now have in Congress?

    You already have access to any member to be named to this "blue ribbon" commission and any perceived expertise.

    Here is a compromise, sign up the commission and the rest of the Senate can resign and go home! If 18 can do the job of 100 then fish or cut bait!

    December 9, 2009 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
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