WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is studying the history books and considering the appointment of a mix of lawmakers and business leaders as he lays the groundwork for a new commission to tackle the nation’s growing debt.
McCarthy is fresh off his biggest political victory since becoming speaker in January. He got the White House to negotiate on a bill that suspends the debt ceiling into January 2025 while also producing a projected $1.5 trillion in deficit savings over the coming decade. But the legislation only focused on a sliver of the federal spending that occurs each year and excluded programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that account for the majority of government spending and are the biggest drivers of the debt.
McCarthy has embraced the idea of establishing a new fiscal commission to find additional deficit reduction. While similar commissions have notched success in the past, the most recent ones failed to muster enough support for Congress to take up their recommendations. The speaker has asked Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., to work with him on the issue, which follows Graves’ work as one of the lead debt ceiling negotiators in talks with the White House.
Many analysts say it will take a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes to meaningfully change the country’s financial trajectory. But therein lies the problem: Many Republicans won’t entertain tax increases of any kind, and many Democrats won’t consider benefit cuts.
McCarthy refused to accept any tax increases as part of the debt ceiling talks. And when asked if he had any such red lines for the debt commission, McCarthy said he currently is focused on getting the structure of the commission right, but added that the revenue coming into government coffers, about 19.2% of gross domestic product last year, is at the high end of the 50-year average.
The landmines confronting the commission are legion. Even if McCarthy can get something through the House, the commission’s clout would be diminished without Senate participation and White House buy-in. And any findings from the effort could come during a presidential election year — an unfavorable political climate for a proposal that is likely to ask for some sacrifice from the voting public.
McCarthy said one thing he could do as speaker would be to bring up recommendations from the debt commission one at a time rather than in one fell swoop.