The United States is facing a looming fiscal imbalance brought on by the aging of the population and rapidly rising health care costs. And while the credit crisis and recession are understandably of top concern to policymakers at the moment, the long-run fiscal outlook, seemingly deteriorating further day by day, cannot be ignored.
Unfortunately, the current political environment creates strong disincentives for individual politicians to tackle the tough choices required to put our fiscal house back in order. An appointed commission could offer an alternative mechanism through which to address these thorny but critical issues by undertaking the heavy lifting of developing options and building the political consensus necessary to enact legislation. As evidence of the popularity of this idea, over a dozen bills were introduced in the 110th Congress that would have created commissions to find politically and fiscally acceptable solutions for reforming entitlements, taxes, the budgeting process, or some combination of the three. This paper reviews some of the recent history of appointed commissions and discusses the issues surrounding their potential role in long-term federal budgeting.