December 15th, 2009
06:39 PM ET
8 months ago

CNN Exclusive: Obama weighs ordering new debt commission

The Obama administration is considering ordering a debt commission after Sens. Gregg and Conrad proposed a similar move last week.
The Obama administration is considering ordering a debt commission after Sens. Gregg and Conrad proposed a similar move last week.

Washington (CNN) - CNN has learned President Obama is seriously considering an executive order to create a bipartisan commission that could weigh sweeping tax increases and spending cuts to popular programs like Social Security and Medicare in order to try slash the soaring federal deficit.

Documents obtained by CNN show that top advisers to the President have been privately weighing various versions of a commission and there are differing opinions about how to structure it. Officials say that some inside the administration are pushing for a narrow mandate because it's too complicated to tackle reform of the tax system and various popular federal spending programs all at once.

"Each major category of fiscal policy - Social Security, Medicare, discretionary spending, revenues - raises a complex and idiosyncratic array of policy problems and prescriptions," according to the documents detailing some of the administration's deliberations. "Achieving consensus on any one of these issues - much less all of them simultaneously - may be more than the political system can reasonably accommodate."

But officials told CNN that other advisers to the president are pushing for the commission to have a broad mandate to put all of these big issues "on the table" at the same time.

"The nation's unsustainable fiscal course is the result of imbalance across the budget as a whole, not any component in isolation," according to the documents, which are marked "Preliminary and Pre-Decisional - Not For Distribution".

"And, in both the 1990 and 1993 budget deals, the final compromises encompassed both revenue enhancements and spending reductions," add the documents. "Such deals, touching on both sides of the budget ledger, perhaps offer the best way of achieving a bipartisan deficit reduction package."

The Obama administration's deliberations are taking on some urgency behind closed doors because the President is facing heavy pressure from Sens. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, and Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, to appoint a commission. Conrad and Gregg, along with a group of moderates led by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, have been threatening to block a large increase in the nation's debt ceiling unless the president agrees to a commission.

Related: Leading senators call for fiscal commission

While some critics charge a commission would be a cop-out because it would punt congressional decisions to an outside panel, the senators pushing the plan say the current system is broken, and that it will take a new mechanism to enact the wrenching changes that will be needed to get the budget back into balance.

"We are on a path to bankruptcy as a nation, and it's that simple," Gregg said last week as he and Conrad officially introduced legislation that now has 33 co-sponsors.

The Conrad-Gregg bill, which would need to pass both chambers of Congress and then be signed into law by Obama, would create a deficit commission with 10 Democrats (eight members of Congress and two Obama officials) and eight congressional Republicans.

The panel would have several months in 2010 to study the problem and then vote after the midterm elections on a reform package that could include dramatic tax hikes and spending cuts. If 14 of the 18 members approve the package, giving it a bipartisan nod, it would force an automatic up-or-down vote in both the House and Senate on whether to implement the recommendations.

If Obama signed an executive order to create the commission, however, it would not have the full force of law and thus the outside commission could not mandate that Congress vote up-or-down on the recommendations. This would also give the president more wiggle room to ignore the recommendations if the commission suggests, for example, raising taxes on people earling less than $250,000 a year, which would break an Obama campaign promise.

Some administration officials also like the executive order idea because it could help the White House place more Obama officials on the commission to give the president more control.

But the documents obtained by CNN note that option also brings political risk: "The promise of greater say over the deliberations and final product of the commission, but the peril of being more deeply implicated in the event of failure."

soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    Virtually anything more complex than saying "no" is "more than the political system can reasonably accommodate", especially the "bold" but unenactable items on Obama's agenda. Everyone knows we are headed to fiscal hell in a handbasket in the next couple of decades, but I seriously doubt the ability of Congress or The Poeple to do much of anything.

    December 15, 2009 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  2. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    Virtually anything more complex than saying "no" is "more than the political system can reasonably accommodate", especially the "bold" but unenactable items on Obama's agenda. Everyone knows we are headed to fiscal hell in a handbasket in the next couple of decades, but I seriously doubt the ability of Congress or The People to do much of anything.

    December 15, 2009 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  3. Fooled Again

    If Obama is serious about debt reduction, he should put Ron Paul on the committee. He'd trim that puppy in no time.

    December 15, 2009 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  4. Proud to be a Republican

    Kick all the demorats out of office as they are ruining this country with their socialistic agenda...

    December 15, 2009 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  5. snood

    Cool another usless commission in washington that will give a few of his kronies a job. this guy is getting worse then Bush everyday.

    December 15, 2009 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  6. tom

    I think its rather humorous that the guy who has spent more money than any president in history -even more than Bushie – is now so 'concerned' about the deficit which of course is the biggest american scam going now. Parsing the word 'deficit' as opposed to 'debt' .

    It must be wonderful to go get whatever you want and payoff whomever you need to payoff, and THEN be so 'concerned' about spending after the fact.

    December 15, 2009 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  7. Gerry NH

    A bipartisan commission there is nothing bipartisan about obama. He will create jobs for his friends and pay them more than there worth. Just another waste of tax payers money. This administration is a joke.

    December 15, 2009 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  8. Paul H

    Let's call them the Gestapo to go along with the Czars that we have. A combination of the Russian, and German tyrants.
    I mean why do anything the American way?

    December 15, 2009 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  9. mjm

    You could try not spending 3 trillion in one year. That might do the trick instead of bypassing congress with your little panel.

    Can't wait to see how "trickle down taxes" work for the economy.

    December 15, 2009 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  10. Bear

    Too late. This president has lost ALL credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency in his short year in office. We are 1/4 through this presidential term and he will go down as the true definition of what a politician is. Irresponsible, self loving, out of touch, baby kissin politician.

    This is just a ruse to cover up the corruption that has escalated under this naive, childish ignoramous.

    December 15, 2009 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  11. Chanel

    I'm all for taxing the wealthy... that's why they call them wealthy. But... ... what documents are these? The last quote sounds like it's politics over the nation's well being. Until we are told what exactly this document is, I am keeping in mind that this was brought to CNN by Ed Henry... a Republican.

    December 15, 2009 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  12. Gracie/J.

    Republicans have gotten used to doing nothing and nothing they will do!

    December 15, 2009 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  13. Matt

    Republicans have made it very clear that they have no intention of accomplishing anything during this administration. They want failure only.

    December 15, 2009 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  14. Has anybody thought to ask these "deficit hawks" where they stand on funding "eternal war"?

    Yeah, slash existing programs to help Americans, and sink any new legislation (health care reform) to help Americans, but keep sending trillions of dollars down middle eastern bogholes.

    That's a wise and fair use of our resources.

    December 15, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  15. PAUL

    Republicans will sit there as smug as bugs in hopes that failure will come.

    December 15, 2009 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  16. We the Sheeple

    I love it when Legislators– you know, the guys who control the pursestrings– vote for massive, record-breaking deficits when it comes to financing tax cuts for the rich and "eternal war" in the middle east, and then tell us that we have to slash spending on nation-building at home, because they've suddenly discovered that we have– GASP!– deficits!

    December 15, 2009 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  17. Four and The Door

    Isn't this a bit like Bernie Madoff ordering a new Ethics Commission?

    December 15, 2009 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  18. MR RIGHT

    Now the truth emerges, and the lies are being exposed, spend spend spend, and tax tax tax this is the way of the democrat party. So much for the centrist Obama a sheep in wolfs clothing. You fools voted for the dems in the senate and for the Obama change, you screwed us all.

    December 15, 2009 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  19. Mark

    He's causing the debt? Oh ya politics at its best

    December 15, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  20. Rene

    It is time for Joe to GO! We need jobs but even if you have a job you can not afford Health Care.

    December 15, 2009 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  21. Cindy

    As long as this commission tackles the Insurance Industry as well, cause that's probably where the money is draining into.

    December 15, 2009 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  22. Paul from Phoenix

    Interesting, he promised my middle class taxes wouldn't go up. Hmm, he wants to fix the soaring federal deficit...that has tripled since he took office. Can't wait to see Bush get blamed for this. At what point does Obama get to take the blame?

    December 15, 2009 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  23. Enough

    Hold onto to your wallets.........taxes are gonna sky rocket, while benefits are slashed............it's the Obama way.........Tax and spend, Tax and spend, it never ends with this man.

    December 15, 2009 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  24. PaulC

    Please tell me they will include the massive budget paying for the bloated perks and cost of Washington. I suggest we include all members of congress and government in the Medicare and Social Security we enjoy.

    December 15, 2009 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  25. GD from Kensington, MD

    Anyone remember the infamous Peter Principle from a few years back? People tend to "rise to [their] level of incompetence." I think Ms. Palin is an overachiever in this department. She needs to drop back a couple of levels into the position she is best suited for–throwing cats at people.

    December 15, 2009 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
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