Fighting the federal deficit will have to wait for another day, but that day may come soon.
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform voted on whether to approve its own report and recommendations Friday, but it failed to get the 14 votes from its members required to send its proposal to Congress, according to media reports. The 59-page program of recommendations to slash the deficit by $4 billion over 10 years had something in it to offend everyone, including drastic spending cuts and tax hikes. Former Reagan administration Budget Director David Stockman, who has been critical of current fiscal policy, writes on Minyanville that the plan was "nearly incomprehensible beltway mumbo jumbo and gimmicks."
The proposal, though, may not be dead. Members of the commission say they're optimistic that Congress will take action on the recommendations in spite of the vote. NBC News quotes former Sen. Alan Simpson, the Republican co-chair of the bipartisan commission, as saying, "I will walk home proudly, with my head held high."
Supporters of the Tea Party have made tackling the deficit, which tops $1 trillion, one of their top priorities. Liberal groups such as MoveOn.Org are pressuring Obama not to be too accommodating to Republicans, who won control of the House of Representatives during November's midterm elections.
"The people are ahead of the politicians," says Dave Walker, the CEO of the Comeback America Coalition and former U.S. comptroller general, in an interview. "They have adjusted their own personal behavior. . .They know the U.S. [government] is not exempt from the laws of prudent finance."
Interest on U.S. Debt Could Hit $1 Trillion by 2020
The commission's failure to get enough internal support to send the report to Congress shouldn't overshadow the fact that bipartisan support is growing for reining in government spending. Six of the 12 lawmakers on the commission voted in favor of its findings, including conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and moderate Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Kent Conrad (D-S.D.). Walker also notes that the recommendations wouldn't have been put up for a vote during the lame duck session of Congress, even if the report had received enough votes from commission members.
What's needed now is the political will to tackle spending, something which both sides have lacked for decades.
President Obama asked the commission to come up with ways to slash the federal budget deficit from the 8.9% of GDP it stood at in fiscal 2010, which ended on Sept. 30, to 3% of GDP. If left unchecked, interest on the debt could reach $1 trillion by 2020, as increasing numbers of baby boomers begin tapping Social Security. Public debt could equal as much as 135% of GDP by 2035.
Government officials on Friday also reported that the November unemployment rate rose to 9.8%, disappointing investors and sending the stock market lower. And the debate continues in Washington about extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which Stockman and others argue the U.S. cannot afford, because they would add $700 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years.
Congress also continues to debate extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, which would also add to the country's debt. Another extension effort failed Thursday in the U.S. Senate. About the only thing that everyone agrees on is that the current U.S. fiscal path is unsustainable.