Rep. Peters, Sen. Romney, others face uphill battle in tackling federal debt

December 22, 2023

We know Republicans want to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block. And if we don’t act, these vital programs face deep, automatic cuts under current law. Congressman Peters proposed a fiscal commission to save these benefits and invest in our kids’ future.

Read more about it in this December 6th piece from the San Diego Union Tribune, posted below:

Rep. Peters, Sen. Romney, others face uphill battle in tackling federal debt

By Michael Smolens

December 6, 2023

Rep. Scott Peters has a unique perspective on a very big number — the nearly $34 trillion federal debt.

“That doesn’t mean a lot,” the San Diego Democrat said in an interview. “That’s a distraction.”

The size is so hard to grasp, it’s almost meaningless to many people. Peters puts more emphasis on the context of the figure.

“This year we’re spending $663 billion on (debt) interest alone. That’s more than we spend on Medicaid, that’s more than we spend on our children, and soon to be more than what we spend on defense,” he said in testimony before the House Budget Committee last week.

”…These interest payments crowd out investments we want to make, like an expanded child tax credit, crowd out investments like making college affordable and expanding apprenticeships, crowd out our ability to ensure the clean energy transition leaves no one behind.”

Peters was there to make his case for a bipartisan bill he is co-authoring with Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., to create a commission charged with coming up with proposals to get the federal debt under control. Ten other Democrats and 10 other Republicans have signed on to the bill.

It’s one of three pieces of legislation with the same goal. One bill is sponsored by Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Merely creating such a commission will be no easy task in Congress. Getting its debt prescription — if a commission can even agree on one — approved by both houses may be too steep a climb.

Debt reduction isn’t a high priority for many members of Congress at the moment. Further, Republicans tend to be solely focused on cuts Democrats can’t stomach, and Democrats generally advocate raising taxes — a nonstarter for Republicans.

Yet a confluence of political necessity and public opinion may be building momentum for a debt commission.

After the Wednesday hearing, House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, raised the idea of attaching the debt commission proposal to annual government funding bills needed to pass early next year to keep the federal government open, according to various news reports.

Congress and President Joe Biden avoided a shutdown before Thanksgiving by agreeing to a stop-gap measure, pushing back the deadline on certain funding legislation to mid-January and early February.

In October, a survey by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation found 9 out of 10 voters favored a bipartisan commission to address the rising national debt.

The survey concluded voters are very concerned about the increasing burden of interest costs and the approaching depletion of Social Security, which will result in automatic benefit cuts by 2033 if lawmakers do nothing.

The Pew Research Center registered an increase in public concern across the political spectrum about the federal deficit earlier this year when Congress and the Biden administration were struggling to raise the country’s debt ceiling and avoid an unprecedented national default.

The federal debt and other fiscal concerns — and questions about Washington’s ability to deal with them — were cited by Fitch Ratings and Moody’s this year when they downgraded U.S. credit ratings. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the nation’s credit rating 12 years ago.

In theory, the potential to enact long-term spending cuts through a commission could find favor with enough Republicans to support less austere legislation in the coming months. But some Republicans would likely view the commission as a fig leaf to avoid the more immediate cuts they demand.

Some Democrats just see a commission as a vehicle for broad cuts in essential programs.

“My fear is that a commission would (be used) by some as an excuse to slash Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other federal anti-poverty programs,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said during the House Budget Committee hearing, according to The Hill.

Romney, who also testified, predicted a commission would not propose taking away benefits from current recipients or those expected to get them soon — at least regarding Social Security and Medicare.

“One thing that’s not on the table is the idea that we’re going to cut benefits,” he said. “That would simply be unacceptable.”

In 2010, the Simpson-Bowles commission was impaneled to address the nation’s debt during President Barack Obama’s administration. The co-chairs were former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.

The commission came up with a mix of spending cuts and revenue enhancements, but the package did not receive enough support from its members to put a formal proposal before Congress. Eventually, only spending reductions made it into the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Congress is even more politically divided today.

Nevertheless, Peters said that was a different era. The debt has more than doubled in 10 years. He also noted about three-quarters of the House of Representatives has turned over since Simpson-Bowles.

“I think it’s time to have that conversation again,” he said.

The commission would have 12 members of Congress evenly split between both parties and both houses, and include four outside experts, two appointed by Democrats and two by Republicans.

If the panel produces a bill, it would be submitted to Congress for an up-or-down vote, Peters said.

Much of Peters’ argument is targeted toward fellow Democrats. In addition to the “crowding out” of investments they want to make, he said Republicans have time on their side.

In about 10 years, Peters said, Social Security and Medicare will hit the wall. That’s when the combined Social Security trust fund reserves are expected to be depleted and both programs will face deep, automatic cuts under current law — “An overnight 23 percent benefit cut for the average recipient,” he told the House Budget Committee.

“I worry that come 2033, Republicans will say, ‘Okay, let’s compromise and call it a 15 percent benefit cut instead.’ And with a pending 23 percent cut, they will have all the leverage in the room,” he added.

Some critics said Congress shouldn’t hand-off such a big task. Peters and other supporters say a select panel can cut across jurisdictional disputes among several committees on a politically sensitive topic. He cited the Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) process of the late 1980s and early 1990s as a model of how the debt commission could work.

Peters said based on his experience of nearly 11 years on Capitol Hill, he believes there is no other way to move forward on debt relief.

“I’m convinced Congress won’t deal with this issue,” he said.



Peters called “one of the more statesmanlike of our elected representatives”

Young, old challenge San Diego's history of civic status quoBy Neil MorganSAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNEMarch 31, 2002I welcome the tangy...

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