Eclectic trio of candidates considered for Obama deficit panel

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 21, 2010; A13

Republican David M. Cote, the chief executive of Honeywell International, has emerged as a top contender for a slot on President Obama's commission to bring the nation's soaring debt under control, a senior administration official said Saturday.

The White House is also considering appointing two Democrats: Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, and Alice M. Rivlin, a budget expert and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve who recently launched a separate, independent effort to draft a bipartisan plan to stabilize government borrowing.

Obama has given himself six appointees to the 18-member panel, which is tasked with producing a plan to balance the primary government budget -- outside interest on debt -- and deliver it to Congress by Dec. 1. Obama has already named former Clinton chief of staff Erskine B. Bowles and former Republican senator Alan K. Simpson to co-chair the panel. Cote, Stern and Rivlin could be appointed in the coming days, the official said, leaving one slot to be filled. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The other 12 seats are apportioned to sitting lawmakers, three from each party in each chamber. Those appointments could come as soon as this week, when lawmakers are to return from the Presidents' Day break.

Cote has been CEO since 2002 at Honeywell, a technology and manufacturing firm with about half its products linked to energy efficiency, one of Obama's top priorities. According to Federal Election Commission records, he contributed to George W. Bush's presidential bid in 2000, but did not support Obama's GOP opponent, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

The White House recently listed Cote among the four CEOs Obama admires most, and Cote was among a dozen executives who appeared with Obama shortly after he took office to promote a massive economic stimulus package then pending in Congress.

"We need to get this thing done," Cote said at the time. "The business community has great confidence in our president to provide the direction and the leadership that is needed."

The stimulus package has since been reviled by Republicans as wasteful government spending that did little to lift the nation out of recession, and GOP leaders are unlikely to consider a stimulus supporter as representative of the party's views.

Stern and Rivlin are well-known in Washington. Stern is president of the 2.2 million-member SEIU and an ardent supporter of Obama's health initiative. Rivlin was founding director of the Congressional Budget Office and White House budget director under Bill Clinton. She has long called for a mix of new taxes and changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to bring budget deficits under control.

The three did not respond Saturday to requests for comment.

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