Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – President Obama refrained on Thursday from addressing specific proposals to reduce the debt put forward by his presidential Debt Commission, but he called on politicians to hold their fire and work in a bipartisan way to solve the momentous dilemma of the nation’s $13.7 trillion debt.
“I have not seen the final report from the Deficit Commission,” the president said at a joint appearance with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, after a reporter asked him for reaction. “I have said very clearly until I see the final report that I will not comment on it because I want them to have the space to do their work. They are still in negotiations.”
Mr Obama pointed out that the two co-chairs of the Commission – former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming — are trying to secure 14 out of 18 votes on the commission for their recommendations to go forward, “and I want to make sure they’ve got the room and the space to do so.”
The draft report by the co-chairs presents some painful and politically unpalatable recommendations, not merely $2 trillion in spending cuts and $1 trillion in tax increases over the next decade, but also means-testing Social Security, raising the retirement age to 69, expanding the payroll tax, closing one third of overseas US military bases and raising the gasoline tax.
There is something in the proposal to offend everyone, whether doctor (reducing Medicare fees for doctors), lawyer (enacting tort reform to “reduce the cost of defensive medicine”), or Indian chief (ending payments to Native American tribes for abandoned mines).
The president said he convened the commission “precisely because I am prepared to make some tough decisions” but he “can’t make them alone.”
“I need Congress to work with me,” he said. “We’re going to have to make some tough choices. The only way to make those tough choices historically has been if both parties are willing to move forward together.”
Critics of the Debt Commission recommendations have included conservative groups such as Americans for Tax Reform and liberal powerhouses ranging from the AFL-CIO to outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who called it a “non-starter.”
But President Obama cautioned critics to hold their fire, saying “before anybody starts shooting down proposals I think we need to listen, we need to gather up all the facts, I think we have to be straight with the American people. If people are in fact concerned about spending debt, deficits, and the future of our country then they’re going to need to be armed with the information about the kinds of choices that are going to be involved. And we can’t just engage in political rhetoric.”
The location of Mr. Obama’s remarks was of consequence; he’s in South Korea for the meeting of the G-20 economic superpowers, some of whose leaders have been unsparing in their criticism of US policymakers for massive US deficits. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, criticizing the decision of the Federal Reserve to inject $600 billion into the US economy, said, "they have already pumped an endless amount of money into the economy. The results have been dismal."
President Obama today also seemed to indicate that amidst all the campaign rhetoric about reducing spending in the midterm elections, many candidates were offering disingenuous solutions.
“There was a lot of talk during this campaign season about debt and deficits,” he said, “and unfortunately a lot of the talk didn’t match up to reality.”
He said that he has been a proponent of eliminating earmarks “but earmarks alone won’t balance the budget.” And while he supports efforts to root out waste and abuse, even the most optimistic projections of cost savings from such efforts “still leaves a huge deficit and a substantial debt.”
-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller