Everything 'On Table' as Debt Panel Meets

Wednesday, 28 Apr 2010 08:35 AM

By Kara Rowland

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President Obama kicked off the first meeting of a bipartisan fiscal commission by chastising critics of his refusal to rule out a tax increase as a possible solution to the nation's debt crisis for playing a "Washington game."

Mr. Obama, who promised on the campaign trail not to raise taxes on middle-class families, said Tuesday that "everything has to be on the table" — a broad mandate that could include unpopular measures like entitlement cuts or tax increases.

"I'm not going to say what's in; I'm not going to say what's out," Mr. Obama told reporters in the White House Rose Garden. "I want this commission to be free to do its work."

Mr. Obama created the 18-member panel earlier this year through an executive order, tasking it with drafting by December proposals to address the fiscal insolvency. It is headed by Erskine Bowles, chief off staff during the Clinton White House, and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican.

Democrats repeatedly have blamed most of the crisis on former President George W. Bush, whose marquee tax cuts they say were not funded and who signed the Medicare prescription-drug program, which they say was also not funded. Though last year's $862 billion stimulus bill exacerbated the nation's deficit, Democrats argued it was necessary to keep the economy from collapsing.

Republicans were quick to criticize the fact a commission is necessary in the first place, arguing that Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies should be able to rein in spending on their own.

"If the president is serious about reining in government spending, he will take out his veto pen and tell Congress to stop sending him bloated, big-government legislation that's filled with wasteful spending," said House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana.

The commission is charged with coming up with ways to cap the nation's deficit at $550 billion by 2015. Last year's deficit was $1.4 trillion.

Later in the day Tuesday, Mr. Obama traveled to Iowa to tout his administration's efforts to improve the economy and promote clean-energy technologies.

"In too many places, the recovery isn't reaching everybody just yet," he told said at the Siemens Energy plant in Fort Madison, Iowa. "And times are still tough for middle-class Americans, who have been swimming against the current for years before this economic tidal wave hit."

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