President Obama created a bipartisan commission Thursday to cut the growing federal deficit, which he called “an economic crisis brought on by years of bad habits in Washington.”
“These are tough times, and we cannot be spending like they are not,” Mr. Obama said before signing the executive order establishing the Bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
The 18-member committee fulfills Mr. Obama’s vow to include Republicans in solving the country’s problems. However, it falls short of satisfying his wish for Congress to form its own bipartisan panel on reducing the federal debt, which last year grew to a record $1.4 trillion.
The proposal — which would have required lawmakers to vote on recommended spending cuts — was defeated in the Senate by Democrats and Republicans.
“The politics of dealing with chronic deficits is fraught with hard choices, and therefore it’s treacherous to officeholders here in Washington,” the president said. “As a consequence, nobody has been too eager to deal with it.”
Mr. Obama said the deficit has “exploded,” with the U.S. government spending roughly 25 percent of the gross domestic product while taking in just about 16 percent of GDP.
“Without action, the accumulated weight of that structural deficit, of ever-increasing debt, will hobble our economy, it will cloud our future, and it will saddle every child in America with an intolerable burden,” the president said.
Mr. Obama appointed as co-chairmen Erskine Bowles, a chief of staff in the Clinton administration, and former Senate Whip Alan K. Simpson, Wyoming Republican.
“One is a good Democrat and the other a good Republican,” Mr. Obama said at the White House event, “but these are [also] examples of people who put the country first.”
He used one of his favorite terms — “flinty” — to describe Mr. Simpson.
“Alan Simpson is a flinty Wyoming truth-teller,” the president said to laughter. “If you look in the dictionary, it says ‘flinty’; then it’s got Simpson’s picture.”
Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson will submit the committee’s suggestions by the end of the year on how to achieve a balanced budget by 2015.
The deficit last year hit 9.9 percent of GDP and is projected to reach 10.6 percent this year.
The deficit has increased in part because of the recession, which has resulted in few taxes being collected and more government spending on such federal programs as unemployment benefits and the multibillion-dollar economic stimulus and bank-bailout plans.
Mr. Obama will appoint four other committee members. Republican and Democratic leaders will each appoint six members.
To assure bipartisan support, 14 members must approve any recommendation that is forwarded to Congress, which does not have to act.
“I know the issue of deficits has stirred debate,” Mr. Obama said, “and there’s some on the left who believe that this issue can be deferred. There are some on the right who won’t enter into serious discussions about deficits without preconditions. But those who preach fiscal discipline have to be willing to take the hard steps necessary to achieve it.”
• Joseph Weber can be reached at email@example.com.
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