Why Have the Debt Commission?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 27, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Everyone, yes, everyone,agrees our national debt is absolutely exploding and it is a threat to our country. The president just confined a bipartisan debt commission to tackle the problem.

Right now two members of the debt commission, a Democrat and a Republican, go "On the Record." First Democratic Congressman Jan Schakowsky -- we asked the congresswoman, why do we need this commission? Why can't Congress solve of the problem itself?


REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY, D-ILL.: Our goal is by 2015 midterm we solve some of the deficit problems and then going forward long term we come up with suggestions on how we deal with the long term debt. So I think putting people together, Republicans and Democrats and people from the outside, business people, makes a lot of sense.

Short term, right now, I think it is senseless to talk about the deficit, because actually were we to reduce the deficit right now, and just about all economists agree, unemployment would go up.

And I think what we want to avoid is the kind of double dip recession that they had in the 30s when deficit hawks said stop the spending and it drove unemployment up again. And so we're talking about down the road. And it is good to step back, have people together nay room separate from the day-to-day of politics.

VAN SUSTEREN: I understand that everyone has good heart and mind on the commission and also people who sit here in the house and the Senate.

But as I look at this from the outside is it's the function of the members of Congress to work together. We have all these committees because we haven't been able to reconcile a budget or come to terms with our growing deficit that the president has issued an executive order and taken members of Congress and say you come here and get along and talk.

That's essentially what it is, because the commission is made up of senators and -- of people from the House and the Senate, and of course Erskine Bowles and former Senator Simpson.

SCHAKOWSKY: But we don't have a subcommittee or a committee that's dedicated just to looking at our long term, short term, midterm budget issues. So in a way this is like a committee the president has suggested.

And of course all of Congress will have to consider whatever we may come up with or not if we don't come up with anything. It is also to be adviser to the president as well. What are the suggestions that some of the best minds that we can pull together would have on this?

VAN SUSTEREN: You can do that without the commission. I understand it has gotten pretty ugly here on Capitol Hill the lines are divided. And it looks like this group can work together more effectively because of its creation.

And all those things could be done in a perfect world. Members of Congress could talk to the president, reconcile. We've got a whole structure in the government, and it seems to me that its inability to achieve many of the goals that we would like, as a result we have to create a commission.

SCHAKOWSKY: I actually think that this is going to be a useful exercise, even if we don't come to complete consensus, which is we are not going to come to a vote at the end if there aren't 14 out of 18 people who agree to a whole plan, then it won't be in the final report.

On the other hand, I think we can put ideas and perspectives on the table. For example, my view is that we aren't just actuaries or bean counters, but we have to be looking at what is the impact --

VAN SUSTEREN: Visionaries in some way, a vision of where we're going?

SCHAKOWSKY: But what are we visioning? Just cutting the deficit is just about numbers? Or first and foremost, what is the impact that our decisions would have on ordinary people? It is easy to talk about slashing Social Security or Medicare. The average older American makes $18,000 a year.

VAN SUSTEREN: But the Democratic Party doesn't even have a budget right now from which we can work in terms to figure out what we should slash or save or do anything. So all these economic discussions to me as an outsider seem disheartening.

SCHAKOWSKY: Actually we know quite a bit. We've taken a lot of decisive action passing the health care legislation means $1.2 trillion dollars in savings over the next 20 years. There's a lot of -- the Recovery Act, creating the jobs that the CBO says it has created. So we are taking action on budget issues.

But I think pulling people together to say, what about the long term? And what are the priorities? Where are we going to look? And putting revenue on the table, we're talking about taxes there, as well as spending on the table, I think is a useful thing for us to be doing.


VAN SUSTEREN: Next, the other side of the aisle, Republican Congressman Dave Camp also on the debt commission. He went "On the Record."


VAN SUSTEREN: You are on this debt commission. Let me ask you, why do we need a debt commission? We've got lots of members of Congress. We've got lots of committees they are supposed to be looking at budgets and how we spend. Why do we have to get a commission?

REP. DAVE CAMP, R-MICH.: Because the system hasn't worked. I think there is one thing people agreed on today, the problem has gotten worse. And we have to act and act now.

And I think recent events made it even worse. The stimulus really hasn't gotten our economy moving again and dug us $1 trillion dollars in the hole. Just the other day we got the final report on the health care bill, and surprise, health care costs are going up, they're not going to go down.

And we heard again and again today health care costs are the biggest driver of creating this deficit problem we have.

VAN SUSTEREN: What does it say about the way Congress works if we have these committees and these members, and it hasn't worked, so now we have to create something outside? That sounds sort of a lousy message to people across the country that it sounds like you guys don't get along, don't do your jobs, so now we have to create this other one, which is, oddly enough, a group of you guys.

CAMP: There are private sector people there. And I do think sometimes it is helpful to have a mission and focus and bring people from different committees and not have them locked in the same issues that they've normally been in and bring them together and move ahead and do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: There's nothing to prevent you from doing that any way.

CAMP: We should be able to do it, you are right. But it hasn't happened. The deficit has gotten worse. We really are at a crisis point. Everyone agrees Republican and Democrat alike, there's a serious problem that needs immediate attention. Hopefully this commission is a way to jumpstart that process. Make a recommendation and have a vote rather than waiting for years in debate like health care.

VAN SUSTEREN: I believe talking to people on both sides of the aisle that everyone wants to fix this problem. For whatever reason, we haven't been able to fix it. I'm hopeful for the committee, but it seems peculiar to me we have to create something outside to fix it.

But be that as it may, the report is coming out December 1st, if 14 of the 18 of can you agree, and those members are former or current members of Congress. Why does it come out after the midterms?

CAMP: I think they were trying to take it out of politics. The deliberation would be completely part of the political campaign. What we are trying to do is take it outside of that because these are going to be long term solutions. These aren't just quick fixes. So I think having the report come after the election is the smart thing to do.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of staff, none of you gets paid extra dime. You don't get any pay, but you will have the -- the commission will have a staff. Any idea how big that staff is or what it is going to cost?

CAMP: They've announced three people. So it is not going to be much help. So I think we'll try to do some of the work with some of our own staff that we already have. This is a low budget operation. There is not going to be a lot of staff and money being spent.

But a lot of these issues are on the table, and I think it is going to be refining those and trying to come up with a plan in some ways to move forward.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the plan a recommendation to the president, not binding on the president and Congress? Your report that comes out December 1st is a recommendation, here's the way we should fix things?

CAMP: It isn't binding. But the president has said that he will support the efforts of the commission. And I think the speaker has said she will bring this to a vote. So I hope that we are able to get a vote after the work is done. But there's no guarantee.

VAN SUSTEREN: Next meeting is May 26th?

CAMP: May 26th.

VAN SUSTEREN: How was today's meeting, by the way?

CAMP: Actually, it was good. It was a beginning meeting, so we didn't move forward, but we heard from important people. We started off with the president and then the chairman of the Fed, then two CBO directors and head of the budget office.

So we had very knowledgeable and important folks come in and talk us to about the nature of the problem. And the testimony was pretty consistent, how serious it is, how it needs immediate attention. We all spoke for a while.

So it was attempt to get together and set parameters for the fits time. We still have to divide up into subcommittees. I'll get a subcommittee, and we'll meet weekly and come back in a month.


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