Obama to create debt commission Thursday

By Ed Henry, CNN senior White House correspondent


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Obama will sign an executive order Thursday to set up a bipartisan fiscal commission to weigh proposals to rein in the soaring federal debt, according to a White House official.

The official, who requested anonymity because the President has not made the announcement yet, said the co-chairs of the commission will be Democrat Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton, and Alan Simpson, former Republican Senator from Wyoming. It'll be officially titled the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

In his weekly radio and Internet address this past Saturday, Obama touted the commission as the best way to attain "long-term deficit reduction" at a time when Congress seems paralyzed to come together on the mix of spending cuts and tax increases that will likely be needed to balance the nation's budget.

"Because in the end, solving our fiscal challenge -- so many years in the making -- will take both parties coming together, putting politics aside, and making some hard choices about what we need to spend, and what we don't," Obama said Saturday. "It will not happen any other way."

Obama has complained bitterly about the fact that a stronger fiscal commission was killed in the Senate earlier this month after several Republicans dropped their previous support after the President declared he would back it, leading to Democratic charges that the GOP was simply trying to deny Obama a victory.

"Unfortunately this proposal -- which received the support of a bipartisan majority in the Senate -- was recently blocked," Obama said in Saturday's address. "So, I will be creating this commission by executive order."

The stronger commission, which was proposed by Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), would have had the full force of law instead of just being created by executive order. It would have mandated that the commission's recommendations had to be voted on both chambers of Congress, forcing lawmakers in both parties to vote up or down on the panel's expected recommendations on spending cuts and tax hikes.

Under this scenario, the commission will not have the power to force Congress to cast politically unpopular votes. So the report could wind up being another blue ribbon panel report that sits on a shelf somewhere, unless there is public pressure for Congress to act on the proposals.

The commission is expected to study the problem for the next several months and then release its report with recommendations shortly after the 2010 election so that it does not tied up in the politics of the midterms. The new Congress that takes office in 2011 would then have to decide whether or not it wants to consider the proposals. To top of page

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