Obama Establishes Deficit Commission

Update: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will make Republican appointments to the deficit commission.

Saying that the nation's fiscal problems will not be solved with "any one step alone," President Obama this morning signed an executive order creating the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Then as expected, he named former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wy) and former Clinton White House Chief of staff Erskine Bowles  as the group's co-chairs.

Obama said the commission will be charged with making clear recommendations on how to balance the budget excluding interest payments by 2015 and ways to improve the long-term fiscal health of the nation. That, the administration said, would stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio at an acceptable level once the economy recovers. The commission will be asked to address changes to the growth of entitlement programs, as well as the gap between projected revenues and expenditures over the long-term. Any recommendations would have to receive approval by 14 of 18 commission members, guaranteeing bipartisan support. The panel must issue its recommendations by Dec. 1.

The 18-member panel is to include eight Republicans, six named by GOP leaders in Congress and two by the White House. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has said he wants to see details before deciding whether he will name members to the group.  House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) has been more critical of the President's decision, saying the administration should simply advance large spending cuts

Acknowledging the partisan debate, Obama said that Bowles and Simpson are "taking on the impossible--they're trying to restore reason to the fiscal debate." He said as a long-time senator, Simpson had to "make the tough choices" on budget matters, while developing the reputation of being able to work with Democrats. And he said Bowles brokered the 1997 balanced budget deal.

Obama called on the commission to "step away from the partisan bickering," saying  that difficult choices must be made. "I know the issue of deficits has stirred debate," he said, adding that those on the left are worried about federal spending, while those on the right do not want to negotiate without preconditions. He said, "These are tough times and we can't keep spending like they're not." 

The commission is patterned after a proposal by Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and the panel's ranking Republican, Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would have established a statutory commission and required Congress to consider the group's bipartisan proposals on a fast-track basis. However, their plan was defeated when it came up for a Senate vote as an amendment to debt ceiling legislation. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) supported the Conrad-Gregg plan because it would have jump-started the process. CRFB believes the presidential commission can be an effective tool for developing a fiscal sustainability plan. However, to succeed, it must have bipartisan support, have a broad mandate with no preconditions, have a transparent process and have its recommendations voted on by Congress.