- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 27, 2010

President Obama on Tuesday kicked off the first meeting of the bipartisan fiscal commission he formed earlier this year, saying that “everything has to be on the table” when considering how to tackle the nation’s massive debt and deficit problem.

Mr. Obama created the 18-member panel through an executive order, tasking it with drafting proposals to address the fiscal insolvency by December. It is headed by Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, and former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson, a Republican.

Mr. Obama’s refusal to rule out unpopular suggestions such as tax increases have sparked criticism from conservatives who warn he is on track to break his campaign-era pledge not to raise taxes on middle-class families. But Mr. Obama hit back at critics Tuesday, calling such predictions a “Washington game” that he’s not going to play.

“I’m not going to say what’s in; I’m not going to say what’s out,” Mr. Obama told reporters in the Rose Garden. “I want this commission to be free to do its work.”

Democrats repeatedly have blamed most of the crisis on former President George W. Bush, whose marquee tax cuts were not paid for and who signed the Medicare prescription drug program, which also was not paid for. Though last year’s $862 billion stimulus bill exacerbated the nation’s deficit, Democrats argued it was necessary to keep the economy from collapsing.

The commission is charged with coming up with ways to cap the nation’s deficit at $550 billion by 2015. Last year’s deficit was $1.4 trillion.

Mr. Obama touted his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, which would freeze non-defense-related discretionary spending at current levels for three years. Like last year, his plan also calls for a series of spending cuts to programs deemed to be duplicative.

He also cited Democrats’ restoration of pay-as-you-go rules as evidence of a return to fiscal responsibility, though Republicans said the bill contained several exemptions and Democrats have yet to completely offset the costs of jobs and stimulus measures passed this year.

“This is going to require people of both parties to come together and take a hard look at the growing gap between what the government spends and what the government raises in revenue,” Mr. Obama said.

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