President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission held its first meeting last week amid ample -- and appropriate -- warnings that the nation was on a path to fiscal disaster. Commission members, who are charged with recommending solutions to the nation’s short-term and long-term budget problems, were told that time was of the essence. As Robert Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), put it in one particularly dire comment: the longer reforms are delayed, the greater the risk of “catastrophic economic collapse.”
The commission met Tuesday at the White House with Obama, who said people in both parties must put politics aside and “take a hard look at the growing gap between what the government spends and what the government raises in revenue.”
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke emphasized the importance of making the tax system fair, efficient and comprehensible while considering how much revenue would be needed. The commission also heard sobering analyses from Peter Orszag, the White House budget director, and Rudy Penner, another former CBO director.
Obama created the panel – officially known as the Bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform -- in February after congressional efforts to set up a fiscal commission failed. Budget hawks, including The Concord Coalition, had long urged the creation of such a group.
There are 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans on the commission, and any recommendations will require at least 14 votes. The recommendations are due Dec. 1.
Many analysts and lawmakers say the 14-vote requirement will be a high hurdle. But Robert Bixby, Concord’s executive director, says that even if only a limited number of recommendations receive that much support, the commission's work could "still be helpful in defining the magnitude of the problem and the realistic trade-offs that must be made in finding solutions.”
Concord has also urged the commission to focus on long-range, structural problems in the federal budget and to avoid getting bogged down on short-term issues.
The commission's new website features video of the panel’s first meeting as well as prepared testimonies. The commission plans to meet monthly but three smaller groups – focusing on taxes, entitlement spending and other spending – could meet weekly. The next full commission meeting is scheduled for May 26.