December 15th, 2009
06:39 PM ET
9 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. Carlos Montes Sr.

    I am retire and I myself would not mind paying five or ten dollars a month from my social security check just to pay for the deficit, further, how about the millinaires in this country getting social security checks to give them up until the deficit is paid for, not a bad idea, ho.

    December 15, 2009 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  2. m smith

    Yeah let's see if it is bi partisan. The repos will oppose it on general principal. Even as they complaine about it.

    December 15, 2009 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  3. Carlos Montes Sr.

    Please not Greg and Conrad on the commission.

    December 15, 2009 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  4. Albo58

    How about a Debt Czar? Yeah, that'll help!

    December 15, 2009 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  5. annie against biased news

    dufus hasn't done anything bipartiisan yet why would anyone be stupid enough to think another new commission formed by dufus would be bipartisan.

    This is just another way of stealing our freedoms.

    December 15, 2009 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  6. Stop it!

    Leave Social Security alone. We seniors have paid for it all of our working lives - and it's NOT an entitlement program, such as welfare for those who NEVER work for a living - and ALWAYS suck the life out of others who DO work.

    What you totally inept politicians (CRIMINALS!) need to do - is to stop raiding Social Security by using its funds to support your pet projects du jour – CRIMINALS!

    Social Security would be in GREAT shape by now if politicians would stop robbing it! CRIMINALS !!!!!!!!!!!!

    STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT! CRIMINALS, CRIMINALS, CRIMINALS.

    December 15, 2009 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  7. Vic of New York

    Let's start with a commission to revise the filibuster rules of the Senate. This has become a useless and taxpayer money wasting branch of government.

    December 15, 2009 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  8. Cactus

    Wow, does obama intend to take over the US government, arm your selves.

    December 15, 2009 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  9. more than the political system can reasonably accommodate

    finally a president that is trying to fix our problems at home

    thank you Mr. Obama

    December 15, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  10. ib

    This is another absurd thing from Obama. He doesn't care a thing about senior citizens. He just wants us to die off quickly. Cut Obama's pay and park AF1. Keep his dirty hands off SS and Medicare. Disgusting.

    December 15, 2009 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  11. German,Irish American

    Obama is the death panel President. Anyone notice that his cuts always begins with severe cuts to the elderly, while the pork and SEIU money stays in?

    December 15, 2009 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  12. S Callahan In the mystery of the incarnation He is not only truly God, but now truly man. He comes from the infinite distance of the eternal heavens to finite nearness.. The Creator becomes a cre

    Mr. Gregg was 'at least' honest in saying US is facing bankrupcy...
    and I like the idea of devising a budget and truly sticking with it...it may hurt for a short period but over a few years the savings will grow and then the health of our country can be restored. But of course, that is dreaming...there are way too many in there for the pork and not willing to only eat salad.

    December 15, 2009 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  13. Greg, MN

    An executive order... people used to say GWB over did them. This guy is on an ego trip to single handedly ignore the democratic process. Will these commissions be like all of his Czar's outside the scope of Senate confirmation? Their rules work like law?

    LESS GOVERNMENT WIND BAG!!! QUIT GIVING SPEECHES AND START GOVERNING ACCORDING TO THE CONSTITUTION!

    December 15, 2009 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  14. Steve (the real one)

    Do we really need a commission? We are in serious debt, the interest payments are massive, the Dems wants tro raise the debvt levels instead of reducing spending, eliminating wasteful spending on pork and pet projects. Bush owns some and Obama owns some!
    No need for a commission! In fact, the "commission" will be the same folks with the government checkbook now!

    December 15, 2009 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  15. Karen, Maryland

    "Vote after the mid-term elections"....hmmmm doesn't anyone in Washington have a backbone? What am I thinking – all any of them want is to ensure their re-election.

    It's a good idea, however, nothing constructive will ever be accomplished. There is just too much animosity between the two parties for any type of working relationship. Too many egos

    December 15, 2009 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  16. unemployed by Obama

    Here Come The Obama Tax Increases and a nail in the coffin of the seniors. Taxes and Obama medical rationing, haha, you people believe this guy, haha, only fools can believe a fool and there are a bunch of fools out there. Just another move by the wanna be dictator Obama to tax and destroy the American people.

    December 15, 2009 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  17. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    You got to love President Obama intelligence. He keeps the Republicans busy and confused every minute of the day while they are focused on one thing at a time. That's why they continue to take the easy way out by just saying NO to everything. This is everyones opportunity to see what the Republicans are really all about, obstructionist, no solutions, whinners and most of all lazy.

    December 15, 2009 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  18. not alone

    How about reducing the pay of all those washington fat cats living off all are hard earned cash?works for me....

    December 15, 2009 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  19. FLAGSHIP, NC

    This would be a good idea because it would have a group that would directly address a serious deficit problem every day, week after week.
    Other wise the deficit problem would most likely be put on the back burner. Good luck!

    December 15, 2009 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  20. LLoyd

    A commission authorized by congress is the only way (does anyone remember the base closures- the only way it could get done!)

    Is anyone really surprised that Obama wants to create his own as a subterfuge? And especially one he can fill with all of his communist cronies and crooks that are his 'friends'? Just another group of czars.....

    December 15, 2009 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  21. Preston kathy

    Pkm mr obama before you make cuts please make sure you do no not for get about the poor

    December 16, 2009 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
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