Obama creates panel to tackle deficit, debt

With several strokes from several pens, President Obama created a fiscal commission this morning that's supposed to begin erasing $14.3 trillion in government red ink.

Well, not so fast. First the panel, headed by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, must be fleshed out with 16 more members: four appointed by Obama, six by congressional Democrats and six by congressional Republicans (who have yet to say whether they'll play ball).

Then it must spend most of the year coming up with ways to slash the $1.6 trillion federal budget deficit and $14.3 trillion national debt. After that, it must get at least 14 of 18 "yes" votes to send any recommendations to Congress -- a process that guarantees bipartisanship or gridlock.

Obama optimistically called it a "thankless task" in thanking the two men who will take it on. He singled out Simpson, who at 6'7" should be able to take on any tall order, as "flinty" -- an understatement for those who covered the Wyoming lawmaker in the Senate before he abdicated for the ivory towers of Harvard.

"If you look in the dictionary, it says 'flinty' and then it's got Simpson's picture," the president said. Simpson, wearing a wild tie, just grinned.

Obama was more reverential in noting that Bowles, as White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton, helped broker the 1997 deficit reduction law that was followed by four years of budget surpluses.

The two men "are taking on the impossible," Obama said. "They're going to try to restore reason to the fiscal debate."

The panel is Obama's second choice, following the Senate's defeat of a tougher one that could have assured congressional action. This one, like countless others in the past, can be ignored if lawmakers -- even after the 2010 elections -- don't have the nerve to cut spending and, possibly, raise taxes.

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