Back in February, President Obama created a debt commission by executive order, which is tasked with crafting a proposal to reduce long-term deficits through a combination of revenue increases and spending cuts. Theoretically, the package crafted by the commission will then be voted on by Congress, but in order for it to ever see a vote, 14 of the 18 commission members need to approve it.
One of the concerns about the commission is that it will inequitably favor spending cuts (particularly to entitlements like Social Security) and eschew common sense tax increases. This is particularly worrisome because the commission includes some members — like Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) — who fearmonger about any kind of tax increase.
Today, at the America’s Future Now conference, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) — who is also a commission member — said that success for the commission is “unlikely” because conservatives members are refusing to consider tax increases. In an interview with The Wonk Room, she said that she’s worried conservatives are giving “some lip service” to increasing revenue, but “are closing that door and taking it off the table” when it comes to specifics:
[Conservatives] give some lip service to ‘everything should be on the table,’ then, when it actually comes to what kind of revenue can we raise, are closing that door and taking it off the table, and saying that they’re not really willing to consider those things. The problem, in their view, is all about spending, and of course, that’s not the case. Actually, discretionary spending has been pretty darn flat over the years. We’ve seen a growth of wealth among the wealthy already and flat income for ordinary people…It may mean that the commission really deadlocks.
Currently, taxes are the lowest that they’ve been in 50 years, and the U.S. has the fifth lowest taxes as a share of GDP among economically developed nations. Even if we tried to balance the budget entirely on tax increases (which no one is suggesting), the United States would still be in the bottom ten. Balancing the budget entirely on the back of spending cuts, meanwhile, would require draconian reductions that will have the greatest negative impact on the most vulnerable populations.
For her part, Schakowsky said that its unconscionable that Congress is considering spending billions of dollars to cut the estate tax, at the same time that the debt commission is putting Social Security cuts on the table. She also pushed back against the notion that deficit reduction should take precedence over job creation in the short-term. “Leaving our children debt free — does that mean leaving them sick, uneducated, and unemployed?” she asked.