US House panel considers commission to tackle nation’s soaring debt

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Bipartisan legislation to create a commission charged with taming the $34 trillion U.S. national debt is set to advance this week in a House of Representatives panel, as lawmakers battle over federal spending.

The House Budget Committee on Tuesday said it will hold a work session at 10 a.m. (1500 GMT) on Thursday to debate and potentially vote on the “Fiscal Commission Act of 2023,” just weeks after Washington’s total public debt breached the $34 trillion mark, putting it at more than 122% of GDP.

Congress last summer brought the nation to the brink of a globally destabilizing default in a showdown over the federal debt ceiling, and will confront a fresh debt deadline at the end of this year.

Backers of the bill hope it could help make the national debt a topic of greater discussion during the 2024 presidential campaign.

“While a debt commission is not a panacea to fix all our financial problems, it can offer a productive, de-politicized forum for educating the public and identifying consensus solutions for addressing our growing deficits and long-term unfunded liabilities,” Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington said in a statement to Reuters.

The move follows Moody’s decision in mid-November to lower its outlook on the U.S. credit rating to “negative” from “stable,” citing “political polarization in Congress” over ways to address the debt and the costs of financing it.

Similar bipartisan legislation was introduced late last year by retiring Senators Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Mitt Romney, a Republican.

While the House and Senate bills have some bipartisan support, there are significant pockets of resistance. Some liberal Democrats argue that such a commission would be a “back-door” way of cutting benefits in the popular Social Security and Medicare retirement and healthcare programs.

The panel would be charged with recommending spending and revenue proposals to grapple with a ballooning national debt that has been fueled by deficit spending and tax cuts over the past few decades. Even with a commission, Congress and the White House would have the final say.

Republican Representative Bill Huizenga introduced the legislation in November with bipartisan support. He was joined by Democratic Representative Scott Peters, a member of the Budget Committee.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Paul Simao)