A walk through the commission graveyard

Frank Hill Contributor
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Since 1586, there have been shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina at Cape Hatteras that the area became known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Pretty gruesome title for such a beautiful coast.
In a similar vein, President Obama’s recent announcement that he is setting up another commission to be headed up by Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson to study what is wrong with our federal budget should be received by a national collective groan and a scream of “Oh, no! Not another one of those! Please!”

It is a dumb idea whose time has come and gone. In fact, 18 times since 1975; all great ideas, all great people, (of course, we thought we were on the greatest one in 1994), all great commissions. And all shipwrecked once they crossed the Potomac and sunk to the bottom of the Reflecting Pool in front of the Capitol, never to be seen again.

Commissions on budgets and entitlements are a complete political dodge by those in power. They are almost as cowardly as passing along this enormous debt to our children and grandchildren.

We already have a commission to study and make decisions on changing federal spending. We call it the U.S. Congress. It also happens to be the only Constitutionally established body in this country with the authority to make decisions on our behalf to raise taxes and make spending decisions for our Republic on an annual basis.

As if one needed a reason to imagine the most recent commission will sink, it is worth a look at the past commissions established. See if you can check off which ones made any dent at all at the inexorable rise in federal spending, mostly in the entitlement program area. (Please read any and all of them…they say the same thing)

Consultant Panel on Social Security (1975-1976)

The National Commission on Social Security (1977-1981)

National Commission on Social Security Reform [Greenspan Commission] (1981-1983)

President’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control [Grace Commission] (1982-1984)

President’s Commission on Privatization (1987-1988)

National Economic Commission (1987-1989)

Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform [Kerrey-Danforth Commission] (1993-1995)

Advisory Council on Social Security (1994-1996)

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Building a Better Future:
The Graying of America Project

President’s Commission to Study Capital Budgeting (1997-1999)

The 21st Century Retirement Security Plan: The National Commission on Retirement Policy Final Report—Center for Strategic and International Studies [Gregg-Breaux / Kolbe-Stenholm Commission] (1998-1999)

National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare [Breaux-Thomas Commission] (1998-1999)

U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission (1998-2000)

President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security (2001)

President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform (2005)

Committee for Economic Development, The Emerging Budget Crisis:
Urgent Fiscal Choices (2005)

Pew-Peterson Commission on Budget Reform, Red Ink Rising: A Call to Action to Stem the Mounting Federal Debt (2009)

Committee on the Fiscal Future of the United States; National Research Council and the National Academy of Public Administration (2010)

Nearly 36 years after the first budget commission, which was, of course, on Social Security, Congress just raised the debt ceiling to $14.9 trillion. How are these commissions working out for you?

* Commission listing from the Andrew Biggs.

Frank Hill has served as chief of staff to former Congressman Alex McMillan (R-N.C.), House Budget Committee staff, Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform staff, and as chief of staff to former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.).