New speaker on to something with debt commission

Getting the nation’s soaring debt under control should be a national priority. But many special-interest groups don’t agree.

Last week, newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson told his colleagues that he would soon hold a vote on forming a bipartisan commission to study the nation’s fiscal trajectory.


“The greatest threat to our national security is our nation’s debt,” he said. “We know this is not going to be an easy task, and tough decisions will have to be made. But the consequences if we don’t act now are unbearable. We have a duty to the American people to explain this to them so they understand it well. And we’re going to establish a bipartisan debt commission to begin working on this crisis immediately.”

The speaker’s comments exude common sense. The deficit this past fiscal year hit $2 trillion. The debt has soared past $33.7 trillion. The interest payments on the debt now exceed defense spending and will continue to crowd out other priorities. Simply borrowing more money to finance an ever-expanding federal government is a path toward economic disaster and fiscal ruin.

Yet Johnson’s remarks were met in some quarters with hostility and skepticism, particularly from political hysterics in the “Republicans want to throw grandma off the cliff” crowd.

“This commission is designed to subvert the will of the American people,” said Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, “by fast-tracking cuts to Social Security and Medicare behind closed doors.”

Can we at least see the panel’s suggestions before dismissing its formation? Besides, does Altman believe that endangering the nation’s fiscal health will be beneficial in the long term to the recipients of Social Security and Medicare? Doing nothing only exacerbates the problem.

Critics are on more solid footing when they say that forming a commission is a dodge intended to shield Congress from responsibility for a problem of its own making. After all, we’ve gone down this road before — most recently in 2010 when President Barack Obama formed the Simpson-Bowles commission to study deficit reduction — only to throw the recommendations into the shredder.

Such pronouncements are true, to an extent. But the spending problem in Washington has only worsened in recent years, adding urgency to the debt debate. The issue, according to polls, is also at the forefront of many voters’ concerns.

Johnson’s committee should conduct its business openly and consider a wide range of potential solutions to controlling the red ink — even those that are anathema to one party (tax hikes) or the other (spending cuts). It’s admittedly a long shot, but fostering vigorous discussion and debate on the debt may be the first step toward accepting and implementing solutions.

— Las Vegas Review-Journal

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