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Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Obama Sets Up Commission on Debt

WASHINGTON (CN) - President Obama created a bipartisan commission Thursday to "address the long-term quandary of a government that routinely and extravagantly spends more than it takes in" after such a commission was rejected by mostly Republican senators last month. "These are tough times and we can't keep spending like they're not," Obama said before signing.

"The politics of dealing with chronic deficits is treacherous to officeholders here in Washington," Obama said. "As a consequence, nobody has been too eager to deal with it."

An expected decade of deficits will take the national debt from just over $12 trillion now to more than $21 trillion by 2020, said a Congressional Budget Office report. And lawmakers recently hoisted the debt ceiling by nearly $2 trillion to $14.3 trillion.

The majority of Democrats, 36, voted for the deficit commission, compared to 22 who voted against it. The majority of Republicans, 23, voted against it, compared to 16 who voted for it. The 53 to 46 vote fell 7 votes short of passage.

Republicans had expressed concerns that the commission would suggest tax increases and Democrats appeared to fear cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

The new panel is tasked with slashing the deficit to about 3 percent of the economy by 2015, much smaller than the 10.6 percent predicted. It must also look for ways to lower the nation's debt to 77 percent of gross domestic product by 2020.

The panel must report to Congress by early December, but because the commission was formed by executive order instead of Congressional action, Congress will not be required to take end-of-the-year votes on the commission's recommendations.

Only recommendations earning 14 votes from the committee will be passed on to Congress, ensuring that the recommendations are bipartisan.

The Obama administration has said that nothing is off the table, despite Obama's pledge not to increase taxes on households earning less than $250,000.

Obama again used the perpetual deficits to promote health care reform. "That's why we're seeking to reform our health insurance system," he said. "Because if we don't, soaring health care costs will eventually become the single largest driver of our federal deficits."

The commission will sit 18 members. Six will be chosen by Obama. Six representatives will be chosen evenly between House majority and minority leaders Nancy Pelosi from California and John Boehner from Ohio. And six senators will be chosen evenly between Senate majority and minority leaders Harry Reid from Nevada and Mitch McConnell from Kentucky.

Obama has already selected the co-chairs: former President Bill Clinton's White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Senate Republican Whip Alan Simpson from Wyoming.

Speaking of the two men, Obama said, "They know how to disagree without being disagreeable."

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