President Obama on Thursday will sign an executive order creating a special commission to examine ways to reduce the nation's staggering deficit, but there is little optimism Congress will ever take up its recommendations, which will likely include painful budget cuts or tax increases.
“I don't think the political will currently exists in either political party to make significant progress on the long-run fiscal imbalance, and if it doesn't exist, then the commission is not going to succeed,” said Alan Viard, a fiscal policy scholar at the free-market American Enterprise Institute. “Part of me thinks we probably shouldn't even bother with it.”
White House officials said Wednesday that Obama plans to appoint former White House Chief of Staff and University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming, to head a commission tasked with cutting the deficit, which has ballooned to $1.4 trillion.
The panel is intended to include both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, but the group will not have the power to force Congress to vote on its proposals.
“At this point, it seems unlikely Congress will adopt them,” Viard said.
Congress last month sent a clear message that it was not ready to take on the politically unpopular actions that would be needed to cut the deficit.
The Senate in January rejected a bipartisan proposal that would have created a debt commission and required the Senate to vote on its proposals. The plan had sponsors on both sides of the aisle but support fell apart after special interest groups lobbied hard against it out of fear it would cut benefits and services or create new taxes.
“What we had was conservative groups calling Republicans and liberal groups calling Democrats,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “The forces here in Washington, in my opinion, are incredibly destructive and it is an absolute shame the bill did not pass.”
Democrats in Congress say they are willing to join the panel, which has the endorsement of both House and Senate leaders. But Republicans so far are reluctant to join, saying the panel's intent is to raise taxes.
“Its a vehicle that's headed over a cliff and we don't want on it,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has his own plan to form a commission to cut spending.
McCain and others have complained that Obama's commission would exclude costly entitlements, such as Medicaid and Social Security, but Obama signaled this week that he is open to trimming costs in those areas as well, telling Business Week, “What I can't do is to set the thing up where a whole bunch of things are off the table.”
But it is highly unlikely a Democratically controlled Congress would endorse such cuts.
“The president has made it clear he wants to control our rising deficit and get the debt under control,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “I'm a liberal. I agree with him we need to do that. It's how you do it. I don't want all the burden to fall on people who are experiencing difficult times. We need to look at a lot of different things.”