Obama sets up a panel to find ways to cut deficits

By Andrew Taylor
Associated Press / February 19, 2010

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WASHINGTON - In an election year, most legislators are unlikely to support such debt-slicing solutions as raising the retirement age or ordering broad-based tax increases.

Such ideas are far too explosive for one party to take on alone. That’s where President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform - created yesterday - comes in.

With the federal debt next year expected to exceed $14 trillion - about $47,000 for every American - the 18-member commission is charged with developing a plan by Dec. 1 to reduce annual deficits to 3 percent of the national economy by 2015.

Obama created the panel only after the Senate rejected a call by Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, and Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, to establish by law a group that would have been similar but whose recommendations would have had considerably more weight - requiring Congress to take action, accepting or rejecting them.

Reducing the deficit to 3 percent of the gross domestic product would still leave an annual deficit of almost $600 billion, compared with $1.4 trillion last year and nearly $1.6 trillion this year. But it would keep the national debt stable relative to the size of the economy, a goal many economists endorse.

Obama said the red ink could “hobble our economy. It will cloud our future, and it will saddle every child in America with an intolerable burden.’’

Chairing the commission are retired GOP senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and former Democratic White House staff chief Erskine Bowles.

“Whatever the results of our work,’’ Simpson said, “the American people are going to know about a lot more where we are headed with an honest appraisal of our situation.’’

“Everything’s on the table,’’ said Obama.

Republicans were quick to make it clear they’re unwilling to make a bargain on raising taxes in exchange for cuts in benefit programs dear to Democrats.

“The American people . . . want us to get a handle on spending without raising taxes,’’ said Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. “Americans know our problem is not that we tax too little, but that Washington spends too much.’’