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Obama Launches Debt Commission; GOP Not Yet on Board

President Barack Obama launched his bipartisan debt commission on Thursday by executive order, an effort that still lacks GOP support as Congressional Republicans mull whether to participate.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform will “address the long-term quandary” of how the government “routinely and extravagantly spends more than it takes in,” Obama said moments before signing his order into law.

The panel, to be led by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Bill Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (D), is charged with making recommendations aimed at covering the cost of all federal programs by 2015 — or achieving deficits of about 3 percent of the gross domestic product. Obama decided to name the commission by executive order after the Senate rejected a proposal of its own.

The commission will include 18 members, of which Congressional leaders will appoint 12 and Obama will appoint six. Of the 12 chosen by House and Senate leaders, three each will be chosen by the Republican and Democratic leaders in each chamber and all must be sitting Members of Congress. Of the six appointed by Obama, no more than four can be from the same political party.

In a further show of his bipartisan effort, Obama is requiring 14 out of 18 votes to report any recommendations out of the panel. All recommendations are due to Congress by Dec. 1, 2010.

The prospect of reining in federal spending has been “treacherous to officeholders here in Washington. As a consequence, nobody’s been eager to deal with it,” Obama said. He called on Congressional leaders from both parties to “step away from the partisan bickering” and move forward on the issue.

But back on the Hill, Republican leaders were still skeptical — despite an additional nudge from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who called both House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday night to press the issue.

“We still haven’t heard from the president on our proposal to start cutting spending right now. That doesn’t mean we won’t participate in this commission, but it does indicate that Washington Democrats aren’t serious yet about shutting down their spending binge,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

Steel said Boehner and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are still waiting for feedback from Obama regarding their proposal that he send Congress a “recissions” package of targeted spending cuts that lawmakers could put into effect immediately.

“After trillions in new and proposed spending, Americans know our problem is not that we tax too little, but that Washington spends too much — that should be the focus of this commission,” McConnell said in a statement.

Some Republicans were already dismissive of the panel since it includes more Democrats.

“Since the president has unfairly given Democrats and liberals an over-representation on the commission, the odds are high that its recommendations will be heavy on tax increases and light on spending reductions. Raising taxes and ignoring the need for structural entitlement reforms is not the right recipe for a brighter American future. It’s a recipe for a stagnant economy, which steals hope and opportunity from our children,” said Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

Price also took a swing at Congress for not being able to maintain fiscal responsibility on its own: “Congress is responsible for America’s sad fiscal state, and Congress must make the tough decisions to fix it today. If the current membership of this Congress is not capable without the crutch of a White House commission, there are certainly plenty of Americans willing to replace them.”

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