US debt tops P34.6 trillion

WASHINGTON— For Mike Johnson it was effectively a Day 1 priority.

It’s well past time, the newly elected House speaker said in October, to establish a bipartisan commission to tackle the federal government’s growing $34.6 trillion in debt. “The consequences if we don’t act now are unbearable,” he said, echoing warnings from his predecessor and other House Republicans.

More than six months later, the proposal appears all but dead, extinguished by vocal opposition from both the right and the left.

The collapse underscores an unyielding dynamic in Washington, with lawmakers in both parties loath to consider the unpopular tradeoffs that would be necessary to stem the nation’s swelling tide of red ink — particularly in an election year. Facing the reality that any fiscal commission would almost certainly suggest that Americans pay more or get less from their government, lawmakers have time and again done what they do so well: punt the problem to the next Congress. And they seem poised to do so again.

Many Democrats and left-leaning advocacy groups oppose the commission because they fear it would recommend cuts to Social Security benefits. Some Republicans and right-leaning groups are against it as well, fearing the panel would recommend tax increases. They’ve labeled the commission a “tax trap.”

“I’m disappointed that we haven’t got as much momentum as I thought we would,” said Rep. Jodey Arrington, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee. “The speaker supported it, endorsed it from the outset. But I think there are some outside groups that have weighed in, that have said that this is a backdoor way to raise taxes, and it scared some of my Republican colleagues.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sponsor of the debt commission bill in the Senate, was even more pessimistic.

“No one seems to care,” Manchin said. “It’s a shame, $34.6 trillion in debt. No one cares about it.”

The debt commission legislation, modeled after previous efforts, would create a 16-member panel to recommend steps that could be taken to balance the federal budget at the earliest reasonable date and improve the long-term fiscal health of Medicare and Social Security. The commission would have 16 members — 12 from Congress, evenly divided by party, and four outside experts without voting power. The GOP-controlled House Budget Committee advanced the bill in a 22-12 vote. / AP

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