ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports: The message at the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB) meeting today was supposed to be about how investing in community colleges can lead to greater economic prosperity. But the tax debate found its way into the State Dining Room today leading the conversation, in the words of the president, a “little off-script.” PERAB member Martin Feldstein former economic advisor to Reagan, urged an extension of the tax cuts to everyone, including those in the wealthiest brackets, arguing that it would stimulate the economy. "The tax debate is a long one," the president replied while disagreeing disputing the benefit of extending tax cuts for the wealthiest with borrowing $700 billion to cover those extensions. PERAB member William Donaldson, chairman of the SEC under President George W. Bush, said that uncertainty is depressing demand, and that extending the Bush tax cuts for two-years would create the “spark” needed in the country to alleviate that uncertainty. Feldstein said he’s worried about the signal it would send Americans to not extend the cuts for all.
"They have to pay slightly higher taxes," President Obama replied back. "That's the signal." The president noted that this is something that society has to wrestle with. “Look I’d be the most popular president on earth just eliminating taxes,” Obama said, “but that means we’re going to have to make some choices.” At the end of the discussion the president quipped that the meeting had gone a little “off-script,” but that it was a “fun” discussion. After the meeting Penny Pritzker, Chairman & Founder, Pritzker Realty Group said that the views discussed inside the meeting today were individual views, and not necessarily a recommendation by the board to the president on what to do with the tax debate. “PERAB has not taken a position on taxation,” Pritzker said, “we have not taken a position on which direction to go and we are discussing whether we ought to get involved and take a position.” The PERAB was created by Executive Order in February of 2009 to “ensure the availability of independent, nonpartisan information, analysis, and advice,” to the president as he designs and implements his economic plans. The event, as mentioned, was supposed to set up Dr. Jill Biden’s White House summit on community colleges which will be held at the White House tomorrow. With the second lady by his side Mr. Obama today touted at the start of the meeting the economic benefits of investing into community colleges, which he called today an economic imperative. The president announced the “Skills for America” an industry-led imitative out of the PERAB, which will connect community college students looking for jobs with businesses looking to hire, and helping those college and employers create programs that match curricula in the classroom with the needs of the boardrooms. Companies such as The Gap and McDonalds have signed up. “This is one of those ideas that just makes sense. Investing in the skills and education of our workers and connecting them with potential employers is something that we should all be able to agree upon, whether Republicans or Democrats, business leaders or labor leaders,” the president said. The president blasted Republicans, as he has in recent days at his backyard meetings across the country, for suggesting a cut in education by 20% in next year’s budget. “It's a cut that would eliminate 200,000 children from Head Start programs, would reduce financial aid for 8 million college students. It would leave community colleges without the resources they need to meet the goals that we've talked about today. And that just doesn't make sense to me.”