This is the accessible text file for GAO report number GAO-08-238T 
entitled 'Long-term Fiscal Challenge: Comments on the Bipartisan Task 
Force for Responsible Fiscal Action Act' which was released on October 
31, 2007. 

This text file was formatted by the U.S. Government Accountability 
Office (GAO) to be accessible to users with visual impairments, as part 
of a longer term project to improve GAO products' accessibility. Every 
attempt has been made to maintain the structural and data integrity of 
the original printed product. Accessibility features, such as text 
descriptions of tables, consecutively numbered footnotes placed at the 
end of the file, and the text of agency comment letters, are provided 
but may not exactly duplicate the presentation or format of the printed 
version. The portable document format (PDF) file is an exact electronic 
replica of the printed version. We welcome your feedback. Please E-mail 
your comments regarding the contents or accessibility features of this 
document to Webmaster@gao.gov. 

This is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright 
protection in the United States. It may be reproduced and distributed 
in its entirety without further permission from GAO. Because this work 
may contain copyrighted images or other material, permission from the 
copyright holder may be necessary if you wish to reproduce this 
material separately. 

Testimony: 

Before the Committee on the Budget U.S. Senate: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

For Release on Delivery Expected at 9:00 a.m. EDT: 

Wednesday, October 31, 2007: 

Long-Term Fiscal Challenge: 

Comments on the Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action 
Act: 

Statement of David M. Walker Comptroller General of the United States: 

GAO-08-238T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-08-238T, a testimony for the Committee on the Budget, 
U.S. Senate. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

GAO has for many years warned that our nation is on an imprudent and 
unsustainable fiscal path. 

During the past 2 years, the Comptroller General has traveled to 24 
states as part of the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour. Members of this diverse 
group of policy experts agree that finding solutions to the nation’s 
long-term fiscal challenge will require bipartisan cooperation, a 
willingness to discuss all options, and the courage to make tough 
choices. Indeed, the members of the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour believe that 
fiscal responsibility and intergenerational equity must be a top 
priority for the new President. 

Several bills have been introduced that would establish a bipartisan 
group to develop proposals/policy options for addressing the long-term 
fiscal challenge. 

At the request of Chairman Conrad and Senator Gregg, the Comptroller 
General discussed GAO’s views on their proposal to create a Bipartisan 
Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action (S. 2063). 

What GAO Found: 

Long-term fiscal simulations by GAO, Congressional Budget Office (CBO), 
and others all show that despite some modest improvement in near-term 
deficits, we face large and growing structural deficits driven 
primarily by rising health care costs and known demographic trends. 
Under any realistic policy scenario or assumptions, the nation’s longer-
term fiscal outlook is daunting. Continuing on this unsustainable 
fiscal path will gradually erode, if not suddenly damage, our economy, 
our standard of living, and ultimately our national security. Our 
current path also increasingly will constrain our ability to address 
emerging and unexpected budgetary needs and increase the burdens that 
will be faced by future generations. 

As the Comptroller General stated when the bill was introduced, the 
Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action offers one 
potential means to taking steps to make the tough choices necessary to 
keep America great, and to help make sure that our country’s, 
children’s, and grandchildren’s future is better than our past. 

GAO noted that the bill incorporates key elements needed for any task 
force or commission to be successful: (1) a statutory basis, (2) a 
broad charter that does not artificially limit what can be discussed 
and does not set policy preconditions for membership, (3) bipartisan 
membership, (4) involvement of leaders from both the executive and 
legislative branches—including elected officials, (5) a report with 
specific proposals and a requirement for supermajority vote to make 
recommendations to the President and the Congress, and (6) a process to 
require consideration of the proposals. GAO also made some suggestions 
it believes could enhance the likelihood that the bill will achieve its 
overarching goals. GAO suggested the sponsors consider (1) including a 
way for the next President to be involved in the process of proposal 
development, (2) permitting alternative packages to be voted on that 
would achieve the same fiscal result, and (3) eliminating the 
requirement for a supermajority in Congress. With the same aim, GAO 
also expressed some reservations about the current approach to 
specifying the Task Force Chairman. 

Figure: United Surpluses and Deficits as a Share of Gross Domestic 
Product (GDP) under Alternative Fiscal Policy Similations: 

This figure is a combination line graph showing unified surpluses and 
deficits as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) and alternative 
fiscal policy simulations. The X axis represents the fiscal year, and 
the Y axis represents the percent of GDP. 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO's August 2007 analysis. 

[End of figure] 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
[hyperlink, http://www.GAO-08-238T]. For more information, contact 
Susan J. Irving at (202) 512-9142 or irvings@gao.gov 

[End of section] 

Chairman Conrad, Senator Gregg, and Members of the Committee: 

I am pleased to be here today to talk about your proposal to create a 
Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action.[Footnote 1] The 
two of you are to be commended for your leadership on the issue of 
fiscal sustainability and intergenerational equity. As I have noted on 
numerous occasions, our nation is on an imprudent and unsustainable 
fiscal path. The "baby boom" generation must step up and make the tough 
choices needed to put us back on a prudent path in order to ensure that 
our nation's and families' futures are better than the past. In my 
view, elected officials have a fiduciary and stewardship responsibility 
that demands action on our large and growing fiscal and other 
sustainability challenges sooner rather than later. After all, doing 
what is right is what true leadership is all about. 

My remarks are based on our previous reports and testimonies on our 
nation's long-term fiscal challenges, our review of several policy- 
oriented commissions in the United States, and our review of the 
process leading up to other countries' entitlement reforms. These 
efforts were conducted in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards. 

The Nation's Long-Term Fiscal Challenge: 

Long-term fiscal simulations by GAO, Congressional Budget Office (CBO), 
and others all show that despite a 3-year decline in the federal 
government's unified budget deficit, we still face large and growing 
structural deficits driven primarily by rising health care costs and 
known demographic trends. In fact, our long-range challenge has grown 
in the past three years and the projected tsunami of entitlement 
spending is closer to hitting our shores. The long-term fiscal 
challenge is largely a health care challenge. Although Social Security 
is important because of its size, the real driver is health care 
spending. It is both large and projected to grow more rapidly in the 
future. 

GAO's current long-term simulations show ever-larger deficits resulting 
in a federal debt burden that ultimately spirals out of control. Figure 
1 shows two alternative fiscal paths. The first is "Baseline extended," 
which extends the CBO's August baseline estimates beyond the 10-year 
projection period, and the second is an alternative based on recent 
trends and policy preferences. Our "Alternative simulation" assumes 
action to return to and remain at historical levels of revenue and 
reflects somewhat higher discretionary spending than in Baseline 
extended and more realistic Medicare estimates for physician payments 
than does the Baseline extended scenario.[Footnote 2] Although the 
timing of deficits and the resulting debt build up varies depending on 
the assumptions used, both simulations show that we are on an imprudent 
and unsustainable fiscal path. 

Figure 1: Unified Surpluses and Deficits as a Share of Gross Domestic 
Product (GDP) under Alternative Fiscal Policy Simulations: 

This figure is a combination line graph showing unified surpluses and 
deficits as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) and alternative 
fiscal policy simulations. The X axis represents the fiscal year, and 
the Y axis represents the percent of GDP. 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO's August 2007 analysis. 

[End of figure] 

The bottom line is that the nation's longer-term fiscal outlook is 
daunting under any realistic policy scenario or set of assumptions. 
Continuing on this unsustainable fiscal path will gradually erode, if 
not suddenly damage, our economy, our standard of living, and 
ultimately our national security. Our current path also increasingly 
will constrain our ability to address emerging and unexpected budgetary 
needs and they serve to increase the burdens that will be faced by 
future generations. 

Although Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid dominate the long-term 
outlook, they are not the only federal programs or activities that bind 
the future. The federal government undertakes a wide range of 
responsibilities, programs, and activities that may either obligate the 
government to future spending or create an expectation for such 
spending.[Footnote 3] In fact, last year the U.S. government's major 
reported liabilities, social insurance commitments, and other fiscal 
exposures continued to grow. They now total approximately $50 trillion-
-about four times the nation's total output (GDP) in fiscal year 2006-
-up from about $20 trillion, or two times GDP in fiscal year 2000. (See 
fig. 2.) Absent meaningful reforms, these amounts will continue to grow 
every second of every minute of every day due to continuing deficits, 
known demographic trends, and compounding interest costs. 

Figure 2: Major Reported U.S. Government Fiscal Exposures (Dollars in 
Trillions): 

This figure is a chart showing the major reported U.S. government 
fiscal exposures (dollars in trillions). 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: 2000 and 2006 Financial Report of the United States Government. 

Notes: Data from 2000 and 2006 Financial Report of the United States 
Government. Estimates for Social Security and Medicare are at present 
value as of January 1 of each year and all other data are as of 
September 30. Totals and percent increases may not add due to rounding. 

[End of figure] 

During the past 2 years, I have traveled to 24 states as part of the 
Fiscal Wake-Up Tour. During the tour, it has become clear that the 
American people are starved for two things from their elected 
officials--truth and leadership. In addition to the proposal that both 
of you are offering, I'm pleased to say that several other members on 
both sides of the political aisle and on both ends of Capitol Hill are 
also taking steps to answer the call for fiscal prudence by proposing 
bills to accomplish similar objectives.[Footnote 4] 

The Bipartisan Task Force: 

I was pleased to join you when you announced this proposal. As I said 
at the time, I believe it offers one potential means to achieve an 
objective we all should share: taking steps to make the tough choices 
necessary to keep America great and to help make sure that our 
country's, children's and grandchildren's future is better than our 
past. Senators Conrad and Gregg, thank you for your leadership. 

I was especially pleased to see that the task force that would be 
created by your legislation was informed by GAO's work on the key 
elements necessary for any task force or commission to be successful. 
Last year we looked at several policy-oriented commissions. (See app. I 
for a summary table on that work.) Our analysis suggests that there are 
a number of factors that can increase the likelihood a commission will 
be successful. Examples of those factors--and elements your proposal 
encompasses--are: 

* a statutory basis, 

* a broad charter--don't artificially limit what can be discussed and 
don't set policy preconditions (like "must support individual 
accounts") for membership, 

* bipartisan membership, 

* involvement of leaders from both the executive and legislative 
branches--including elected officials, 

* a report with specific proposals and a requirement for supermajority 
vote to make recommendations to the President and the Congress, and: 

* a process to require consideration of the proposals. 

A few of these points deserve elaboration. Having a broad charter and 
no preconditions is very important. This means that "everything is on 
the table"--and that is critical in order for the effort to be credible 
and have any real chance of success. But let me be clear what we mean 
by "everything is on the table"--it means that everything is open for 
discussion and debate. It does not mean advance agreement to a specific 
level of revenues or benefit changes. The only precondition should be 
the end goal: to put the nation's fiscal outlook back on a prudent and 
sustainable path for the future. 

I believe that having true bipartisanship and active involvement by 
both the executive and the legislative branches is important. If any 
proposal is seen as partisan or the product of only one branch, it is 
unlikely to fly with the American people. Candidly, based on my 
interactions with thousands of Americans from across the nation during 
the past two years, there is little confidence in the ability of 
elected officials to rise above partisan battles and ideological 
divides. As a result, I believe that any related commission or task 
force should also involve knowledgeable professionals from selected 
nonpartisan institutions who have significant expertise and experience. 

Finally, the task force or commission will need to move beyond 
diagnosis to prescription. We know the path must be changed. What we 
need now are credible and specific legislative proposals that will 
accomplish that. Furthermore, these should come from a supermajority of 
the task force or commission members with a mechanism to assure a vote 
on a majority basis by the Congress. 

At your request, we are looking at how other countries have reformed 
their entitlement programs--not the substance of their reforms but 
rather the process that led up to the reform. As countries have sought 
to reform entitlements such as pensions and disability, they have often 
used commissions as a means to develop reform proposals that became the 
basis for legislation. For example, the 2003 Rurup Commission in 
Germany, composed of experts, public officials, and others, made 
recommendations for reform of public pensions that were enacted in 2004 
and 2007. In the Netherlands, the 2000 Donner Commission composed of 
respected public figures representing the major political parties 
developed recommendations that became the basis for major disability 
reform legislation enacted in 2005. In the early 1990s, a working group 
of parliamentary members in Sweden developed the concept of a major 
structural reform of their public pension system that was worked out in 
detail in succeeding years and enacted in 1998. In addition to these 
types of commissions, several countries also have permanent advisory 
bodies tasked with periodically informing the government on pension 
policy challenges and reform options. 

Our related work is not yet complete, but some of what we have found to 
date would not surprise you. These special groups--whether commissions 
or task forces--can and do fill multiple roles including public 
education, coalition building, "setting the table" for action, and 
providing a means for and cover to act. Leadership is key and public 
education is also important. 

You asked that we comment on some particulars--and on areas where we 
think further refinements would increase the chances of success. Let me 
now turn to three areas: 

* timing and how to ensure involvement of the newly-elected President, 

* congressional action: whether--and if so how--to permit amendments to 
or substitutes for the commission's proposals, and the supermajority 
vote requirement, and: 

* the chairmanship of the commission. 

Timing and Involving the Newly-Elected President: 

A great strength of your proposal is that it calls for the task force 
or commission to deliberate throughout 2008. As you know, members of 
the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour believe that fiscal responsibility and 
intergenerational equity must be a top priority for the new President. 
We all agree that finding solutions will require leadership, bipartisan 
cooperation, a willingness to discuss all options and courage to make 
tough choices. For example, those who argue that spending must come 
down from projected levels should explain which programs they would 
target and how the savings would be achieved. Those who argue for 
higher taxes should explain what level of taxation they are willing to 
support, the manner in which the new revenue would be raised and the 
mechanisms that will help to ensure that any additional revenues will 
be used in a manner that will help rather than hinder our effort to be 
fiscally responsible. Those who are unwilling to do either should 
explain how much debt they are willing to impose on future generations 
of Americans. Indeed, we have suggested a number of key questions we 
believe it is reasonable to ask the candidates.[Footnote 5] These 
include the following: 

* What specific spending cuts, if any, do you propose and how much of 
the problem would they solve? 

* What specific tax increases, if any, do you propose and how much of 
the problem would they solve? 

* What is your vision for the future of Social Security and what 
strategies would you pursue to bring it about? 

* What is your vision for the nation's health care system, including 
the future of Medicare, and what strategies would you pursue to bring 
it about? 

These questions and others should be addressed by all the 
(presidential) candidates so the public can assess whether he or she 
appreciates the magnitude of the problem, the consequences of doing 
nothing (or making the problem worse), and the realistic trade-offs 
needed to find real and sustainable solutions. 

Although I believe the candidates should recognize the seriousness of 
this challenge, I also believe it is unrealistic to expect candidates 
to offer coherent, fully comprehensive proposals at this point in the 
campaign. In that sense the task force or a similar commission performs 
a great service: candidates could promise to take seriously any 
information or proposals and to engage in a constructive manner with 
the group after the election. They could agree that for the task force 
or commission to have a chance of succeeding "everything must be on the 
table" at least for discussion. 

That said, it is important to find a way to involve whoever is elected 
as our new President. After all, it will be the person elected 
approximately 53 weeks from now who must use the "bully pulpit" and put 
their energy and prestige behind the effort to help ensure success. 
Although I think having a deadline is important, I believe that a 
December 9, 2008, deadline for the commission's report does not offer 
enough time for the kind of input and involvement that will be 
necessary. Some way must be found to gain the active involvement and 
buy-in of the incoming President. In any event, it seems likely that 
the December 2008 deadline would need to be replaced--perhaps with a 
January or February 2009 date. 

Congressional Action on the Proposal: 

You also asked us to think about the current requirement for a "fast 
track" up-or-down vote in the House and Senate and the requirement for 
a supermajority in both houses. 

As former Congressman and former Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 
Director Leon Panetta has said, in any effort to change our fiscal path 
"nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to." This 
statement also offers a warning about the dangers of picking apart any 
package. Whatever process is developed for considering the task force's 
recommendations should protect the proposal from being picked apart 
amendment by amendment. The task force is charged with developing--and 
agreeing to--a coherent proposal which, taken as a whole, will put us 
on a prudent and sustainable long-term fiscal path. Presumably, to 
reach agreement, the members will have made compromises--any proposal 
is going to have elements that represent concessions by the various 
members. In all likelihood those concessions will have been made in 
return for concessions by others. If individual elements can be 
eliminated by amendment, the likelihood that the package will achieve 
its goal will be reduced. The very process of coming up with a coherent 
proposal means that the package is likely to stand or fall as a whole. 
In that sense the prohibition on amendments makes some sense. 

At the same time, I believe it would make sense to permit alternatives. 
I say alternatives not amendments because I believe it is important 
that any alternatives achieve the same change in fiscal path as the 
task force's proposal. The SAFE bill proposed by Senator Voinovich and 
by Representatives Cooper and Wolf does permit alternatives--but it 
holds them to the same standards and criteria as the proposal from the 
commission. Permitting alternative packages to be offered and voted 
upon may increase the credibility and acceptance of the end result. 

The Task Force bill requires both a supermajority to report out a 
proposal and a supermajority in both houses to adopt the proposal. The 
supermajority requirement within the task force (or commission) offers 
assurance that any proposal has bipartisan support. It offers stronger 
backing for a proposal that must reflect difficult choices. If a 
proposal comes to the Congress with a two-thirds or three-fourths vote 
of the task force, the necessity for a supermajority vote to enact the 
proposal in the Congress is less clear. It is even possible that this 
requirement could offer the opportunity for a minority to derail the 
process. Any package that makes meaningful changes to our fiscal path 
is going to contain elements that generate significant opposition. 
Therefore, although I think requiring a supermajority within the task 
force makes sense, requiring a supermajority vote for enactment of the 
task force or commission's proposal by the Congress is inappropriate. 
In my view, such a requirement puts too many hurdles in the way of 
making tough choices and achieving necessary reforms. 

Chairmanship and the Role of the Outgoing Administration: 

Finally, Chairman Conrad, Senator Gregg, let me raise a question about 
the role envisioned for the outgoing Administration. I believe you are 
correct to include executive branch officials. In this regard, I have 
the utmost respect for the current Secretary of the Treasury. I have 
met with him on several occasions and am well aware that he has made 
several statements about the need for action on our long-term fiscal 
challenge. At the same time, I believe that designating a cabinet 
official in an outgoing administration as the task force chairman 
presents some serious challenges and potential drawbacks. 

Both the strength and the weakness of having the Secretary of the 
Treasury participate is that he will be seen as representing the 
outgoing President. While participation by the executive branch at the 
highest level will be important, having an outgoing Administration 
official serve as chairman may serve to hinder rather than help achieve 
acceptance and enactment of any findings and recommendations. Given the 
fiscal history of the first 7 years of this century and the experience 
with the Commission to Strengthen Social Security, I would question 
whether having the Treasury Secretary or any other current 
Administration official serve as chairman is the right way to go. 

Common Ground and Commitment to Sustainability: 

Before concluding, I would like to say a few words about what I hope is 
a renewed push to find a vehicle for addressing this very important 
challenge. Senator Voinovich has proposed the SAFE Commission. Its 
membership is different than your Task Force proposal but it seeks the 
same goal--improving our fiscal path. As I noted, Congressmen Cooper 
and Wolf have joined to introduce companion bills in the House: both to 
the SAFE Commission and to the Conrad-Gregg Bipartisan Task Force. As a 
result, both the Senate and the House have before them bills that seek 
to create vehicles for executive-legislative bipartisan development of 
credible, specific, legislative proposals to put us back on a prudent 
and sustainable fiscal path in order to ensure that our future is 
better than our past. We owe it to our country, children, and 
grandchildren to do no less. 

These are encouraging signs. I hope there is movement in this Congress. 
At the same time I think we must recognize that achieving and 
maintaining fiscal sustainability is not a one-time event. Even if a 
task force or commission is created and succeeds in developing a 
proposal and that proposal is enacted, it will be necessary to monitor 
our path. In that context I note that the proposal by Senators 
Feinstein and Domenici for a permanent commission would require 
periodic review and reporting of recommendations every 5 years to 
maintain the adequacy and long-term solvency of Social Security and 
Medicare.[Footnote 6] In our work looking at other countries we note 
that reform is an ongoing process and that no matter how comprehensive 
initial reforms, some adjustments are likely to be necessary. Something 
like the ongoing commission suggested by Senators Feinstein and 
Domenici may be a good companion and follow-on to the Task Force/ 
Commissions envisioned by either the Bipartisan Task Force or the SAFE 
Commission bills. We will need to be flexible in our response to early 
challenges and success as we move forward. 

Conclusions: 

Changing our fiscal path to a prudent and sustainable one is hard work 
and achieving reform requires a process with both integrity and 
credibility. In our work on other countries' entitlement reform 
efforts, we see that reforms are sometimes the culmination of earlier 
efforts that may have seemed "unsuccessful" at the time. For example, a 
1984 Swedish commission on pension reform did not reach consensus on a 
proposal but its work helped set the stage for a process that resulted 
in a major reform. Similarly, the recent reforms of public pensions in 
Germany and disability in the Netherlands built upon a long series of 
incremental reform changes. Each reform effort can move the process 
forward and each country must find its own way. 

Today we can build on previous efforts in the United States. In this 
country we have been discussing Social Security reforms and developing 
reform options since the mid-1990s. We have had two major commissions 
on entitlement reform in the last decade--a Presidential commission on 
Social Security in 2001 and a Congressional commission on Medicare in 
1998. There have also been discussion, studies and commissions on tax 
reform. As we said in our report on the December 2004 Comptroller 
General forum on our nation's long-term fiscal challenge,[Footnote 7] 
leadership and the efforts of many people will be needed to change our 
fiscal path. The issues raised by the long-term fiscal challenge are 
issues of significance that affect every American. By making its 
proposal, this Committee has shown the kind of leadership that is 
essential for us to successfully address the long-term fiscal challenge 
that lies before us. 

The United States is a great nation, possibly the greatest in history. 
We have faced many challenges in the past and we have met them. It is a 
mistake to underestimate the commitment of the American people to their 
country, children, and grandchildren; to underestimate their 
willingness and ability to hear the truth and support the decisions 
necessary to deal with this challenge. We owe it to our country, 
children and grandchildren to address our fiscal and other key 
sustainability challenges. The time for action is now. 

Mr. Chairman, Senator Gregg, members of the Committee, let me repeat my 
appreciation for your commitment and concern in this matter. We at GAO 
stand ready to assist you in this important endeavor. 

[End of section] 

Appendix I: Selected Commissions Summary: 

Table: Selected Commissions Summary: 

Statutory basis?; 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: No; Executive order but agreement by 
the Congress; 
Kerrey-Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: No; Executive order; 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: Yes; 
Balanced Budget Act 1997; 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: No; 
Executive order; 
9/11 Commission 2002: Yes; Pub. L. No.107-306; 
Mack-Breaux Tax Reform 2005: No; Executive order. 

Imminent crisis or other action-forcing event?; 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: Yes; 
Kerrey-Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: No; 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: No; 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: No; 
9/11 Commission 2002: Yes; 
Mack-Breaux Tax Reform 2005: No. 

Presidential leadership and commitment to success of effort?; 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: Yes; 
Kerrey-Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: No; 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: No; President 
strongly disagreed with proposed recommendations; 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: Yes; 
9/11 Commission 2002: Partial; 
Mack-Breaux Tax Reform 2005: No. 

Within the general charter was scope broad or restricted (and how)?; 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: Broad; 
Kerrey-Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: Broad; entitlement spending and tax reform; 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: Broad; 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: Restricted; had to 
include individual accounts; 
9/11 Commission 2002: Broad; 
Mack-Breaux Tax Reform 2005: Restricted; required revenue neutrality 
and keeping incentives for homeownership and charitable giving, and 
encouraging savings; required to consider equity and simplicity too. 

Number of commissioners; (No. of current elected federal officials / 
No. of others); 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: 15 (7/8); 4 Senators, 3 House 
Representatives, and non-elected (included 2 former Members of 
Congress; also insurance, labor, business representatives); 
Kerrey- Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: 32 (22/10); 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: 17 (9/8); 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: 16 (0/16); Included 
3 former Members of Congress; 
9/11 Commission 2002: 10 (0/10); 
Mack-Breaux Tax Reform 2005: 9 (0/9); Chair and Vice-Chair were former 
Senators; 1 former House Representative on panel; also included 4 
professors and 2 "tax practitioners". 

Appointments by both President and Congress?; 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: Yes; 5 by President, 5 by Senate, and 5 
by House; 
Kerrey-Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: No; presidential appointments only; 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: Yes; 1 of 17 
(Chair) by both President and Congress; 4 others by President; others 
by congressional leadership (Republicans appointed 4 each house and 
Democrats 2 each house) = 8 by each party; 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: No; presidential 
appointments only; 
9/11 Commission 2002: Yes; 1 by President (Chair); 1 by Senate Minority 
Leader with House Minority Leader consult (Vice Chair); 2 each by 
Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker; 2 each by Senate and House 
Minority Leaders; 
Mack-Breaux Tax Reform 2005: No; presidential appointments only. 

Bipartisan?; 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: Yes; 
Kerrey-Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: Yes; of the 22 Members of Congress, 11 Democrats and 11 
Republicans; 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: Yes; 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: Yes; 8 Republicans 
and 8 Democrats; 
9/11 Commission 2002: Yes; 
Mack-Breaux Tax Reform 2005: Yes. 

Co-chairs?; 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: No; 
Kerrey-Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: Yes, functionally; technically Chair and Vice-Chair; 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: Yes, 
functionally; technically Breaux = Chair; Thomas = "Administrative 
Chair"; 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: Yes; 
9/11 Commission 2002: Yes, functionally; technically Chair and Vice-
Chair; 
Mack-Breaux Tax Reform 2005: Yes. 

Open/transparent process including public hearings?; 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: Yes; but found way to do smaller 
conversations; 
Kerrey- Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: Yes; all meetings and hearings were televised on C-SPAN. All 
commission documents, transcripts, and reports made public on a CD; 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: Yes; 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: Yes; 
9/11 Commission 2002: Yes; 
Mack- Breaux Tax Reform 2005: Yes. 

Commission resulted in report?; 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: Yes; 
Kerrey-Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: Yes; failed to reach consensus on specific recommendations; 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: No; proposed 
recommendations failed to gain required 11 votes; 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: Yes; 
9/11 Commission 2002: Yes; 
Mack- Breaux Tax Reform 2005: Yes. 

(month, year issued); 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: (Jan. 1983); 
Kerrey-Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: (Jan. 1995); 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: [Empty]; 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: (Dec. 2001); 
9/11 Commission 2002: (July 2004); 
Mack-Breaux Tax Reform 2005: (Nov. 2005). 

Report set forth specific, actionable recommendations?; 
Greenspan Social Security 1983: Yes; 
Kerrey-Danforth Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform 
1994: No; but recommended 5 broad principles for crafting "solutions to 
our fiscal problems"; 
Breaux-Thomas Commission on the Future of Medicare 1998: n.a; 
Bush Committee to Strengthen Social Security 2001: Report set forth 3 
reform models; 
9/11 Commission 2002: Yes; 
Mack-Breaux Tax Reform 2005: Yes. 

Source: GAO. 

[End of table] 

Footnotes: 

[1] The Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action Act of 2007 
(S. 2063, Sept. 18, 2007) would establish a task force to address, and 
report to the President and Congress on, the Nation's long-term fiscal 
imbalances, including those attributable to the Medicare and Social 
Security programs and the gap between their projected revenues and 
expenditures. Representatives Cooper and Wolf have also introduced a 
companion bill to the Conrad-Gregg proposal (H.R. 3655, Sept. 25, 
2007). 

[2] Additional information about the GAO model and its assumptions, 
data, and charts can be found at [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/longterm/]. 

[3] GAO, Fiscal Exposures: Improving the Budgetary Focus on Long-Term 
Costs and Uncertainties, GAO-03-213 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 24, 2003). 

[4] Senator Voinovich introduced The Securing America's Future Economy 
Commission Act, or SAFE Commission Act that would establish a 
commission to--among other things--develop legislation to address the 
imbalance between long-term federal spending commitments and projected 
revenues (S. 304, Jan. 16, 2007). Representatives Cooper and Wolf have 
also introduced a companion bill to the Voinovich proposal (H.R. 3654, 
Sept. 25, 2007). 

[5] These questions can be found on the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour portion of 
the Concord Coalition Web site at [hyperlink, 
http://www.concordcoalition.org/events/fiscal-wake-up/docs/fwut-
candidate-questions.html]. 

[6] Senators Feinstein and Domenici introduced the Social Security and 
Medicare Solvency Commission Act (S. 355, Jan. 22, 2007) that would 
establish the National Commission on Entitlement Solvency to review and 
report to the President and the Congress on the Social Security and 
Medicare programs every 5 years with respect to their financial 
condition and long-term sustainability. 

[7] Highlights of a GAO Forum: The Long-Term Fiscal Challenge, GAO-05-
282SP (Washington, D.C.: February 2005). 

GAO's Mission: 

The Government Accountability Office, the audit, evaluation, and 
investigative arm of Congress, exists to support Congress in meeting 
its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance 
and accountability of the federal government for the American people. 
GAO examines the use of public funds; evaluates federal programs and 
policies; and provides analyses, recommendations, and other assistance 
to help Congress make informed oversight, policy, and funding 
decisions. GAO's commitment to good government is reflected in its core 
values of accountability, integrity, and reliability. 

Obtaining Copies of GAO Reports and Testimony: 

The fastest and easiest way to obtain copies of GAO documents at no 
cost is through GAO's Web site [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov]. Each 
weekday, GAO posts newly released reports, testimony, and 
correspondence on its Web site. To have GAO e-mail you a list of newly 
posted products every afternoon, go to [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov] 
and select "E-mail Updates." 

Order by Mail or Phone: 

The first copy of each printed report is free. Additional copies are $2 
each. A check or money order should be made out to the Superintendent 
of Documents. GAO also accepts VISA and Mastercard. Orders for 100 or 
more copies mailed to a single address are discounted 25 percent. 
Orders should be sent to: 

U.S. Government Accountability Office: 
441 G Street NW, Room LM: 
Washington, DC 20548: 

To order by Phone: 
Voice: (202) 512-6000: 
TDD: (202) 512-2537: 
Fax: (202) 512-6061: 

To Report Fraud, Waste, and Abuse in Federal Programs: 

Contact: 

Web site: [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/fraudnet/fraudnet.htm]: 
E-mail: fraudnet@gao.gov: 
Automated answering system: (800) 424-5454 or (202) 512-7470: 

Congressional Relations: 

Gloria Jarmon, Managing Director, Jarmong@gao.gov: 
(202) 512-4400: 
U.S. Government Accountability Office: 
441 G Street NW, Room 7125:  
Washington, DC 20548: 

Public Affairs: 

Chuck Young, Managing Director, youngc1@gao.gov: 
(202) 512-4800: 
U.S. Government Accountability Office: 
441 G Street NW, Room 7149: 
Washington, DC 20548: