September 17, 2014

The Bipartisan Fiscal Commission: What Defines Success?

  • The national debt has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits. A deficit occurs in any year the government spends more...

The President’s bipartisan fiscal commission faces a high hurdle. It must find consensus among 14 of its 18 members to send a package of recommendations to Congress for an up-or-down vote in December.

The difficulty of achieving such consensus in Washington’s highly partisan environment has already led to speculation that the commission’s effort is doomed to fail.

Last week the President’s budget director, Peter Orszag, pushed back against this notion, telling an audience at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s annual dinner: “People who are selling the commission short…are going to wind up regretting having done so.”

According to a report in the Fiscal Times, Orszag also raised the possibility that even if agreement among 14 commission members cannot be found, “something is going to come out of this commission, and it will exert pressure on the political system.”

Orszag specifically referred to the possibility of a report by the commission co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, or by a simple majority of the commission. Neither of these would require 14 votes.

Coming from the President’s budget director, these remarks are significant because they may signal the administration’s intention to include recommendations from a sub-group of the commission in its Fiscal Year 2012 budget. While a full report, with 14 members on board, would be the only way to ensure congressional consideration this year, the President could still give life to any good ideas that emerge from the commission’s work by pushing for them in his next budget. This may provide an alternative path to “success.”

The Concord Coalition urges the commission to work in good faith, without preconditions, to achieve a package of recommendations that would meaningfully improve our nation’s fiscal outlook. However, if the formal definition of success cannot be achieved, Concord believes that the alternative path would be a good Plan B.