Obama rounds out bipartisan debt commission

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 26, 2010; 2:29 PM

President Obama on Friday appointed the remaining members of a bipartisan commission tasked with reining in the nation's soaring debt, choosing a Republican businessman, a union chief, a longtime Democratic budget guru and the former president of advertising giant Young and Rubicam Brands.

Along with the panel's co-chairmen, whom Obama named two weeks ago, the appointments fill out the six slots Obama allotted to himself on the 18-member panel. Dubbed the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, the group is under orders to come up with a proposal to balance the nation's primary budget -- outside of interest on the national debt -- by 2015. Their recommendations are due Dec. 1, and congressional leaders have pledged to put them to a vote before the end of the year.

Each party in each chamber is also entitled to appoint three members, though Senate Democrats are so far the only ones to act.

Obama's representatives will include Ann Fudge, a native Washingtonian who rose to the highest ranks of corporate America, serving as president of Young and Rubicam Brands from 2003 to 2006. Fudge also worked in senior executive positions at General Mills and Kraft, and has served on the boards of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Obama also appointed David Cote, the Republican chairman of Honeywell International, who was a staunch supporter of Obama's push for a big stimulus package last year; Brookings Institution economist Alice Rivlin, the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, budget director in the Clinton White House and former vice chair of the Federal Reserve; and Andrew Stern, president of the 2.2 million-member Service Employees International Union and a vocal advocate of Obama's health-care initiative.

Some Republicans are privately grumbling about Stern's appointment, saying the presence of an active participant in partisan campaign battles could hinder the effort to forge compromise on potentially painful matters such as raising taxes and cutting spending on popular social programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

On Friday, Stern signaled in a statement that he will be a fierce defender of those programs, saying Americans "expect that, in times of need, the critical safety nets that served their grandparents and parents will be secure both for themselves and future generations."

Still, Obama himself has declared everything "on the table" for the talks, which will focus on reining in annual budget deficits that have soared to their highest levels as a percentage of the economy since World War II.

Former Republican senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles, Obama's hand-picked co-chairmen, have also signaled their willingness to slay sacred cows on the left and the right, which is adamantly opposed to tax increases.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company