Republicans name six to Obama's deficit-reduction commission

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 13, 2010

Congressional Republicans named six members to President Obama's deficit-reduction commission Friday, choosing the party's most respected leaders on budget issues and hard-line conservatives who said they are determined to steer the panel toward cutting spending and away from raising taxes.

While the GOP appointees said they would approach the commission's work with an open mind, independent budget analysts said the choices suggest that Republican leaders are girding for an ideological battle over the size of government that could make it difficult for the bipartisan commission to reach agreement on a plan to rein in soaring budget deficits.

"The Republican leadership is sending a signal that their top priority is cutting spending," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, which advocates balanced budgets.

Created by a presidential executive order, the commission is tasked with reducing budget deficits that are projected to hover around $1 trillion a year for much of the next decade. If 14 members can agree on a plan to raise taxes, cut spending and reform costly entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) have pledged to bring it to a vote in Congress before year's end.

The naming of the Republican appointees had been eagerly anticipated, because at least two of them would have to support a deficit-reduction plan in order for the commission to recommend it to Congress.

The six include Rep. Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee; Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.), the ranking GOP member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee; and Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the former head of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

Ryan, who won praise from Obama as a serious thinker on budget issues, has drafted his own plan for balancing the budget that would rewrite the tax code to reduce taxes on the wealthy, privatize Social Security and replace standard Medicare with government vouchers for people currently under 55 as they reach eligibility. Hensarling, a co-sponsor of Ryan's "Roadmap for America," advocates capping government spending at no more than 20 percent of the overall economy.

"I don't believe that we need further tax increases. I believe we have a spending problem in Washington, not a taxing problem," Hensarling said in an interview.

The other appointees include Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee and a leading advocate of the commission approach to deficit reduction; Sen. Michael D. Crapo (Idaho), a member of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee; and Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), who has waged a fierce campaign against the pet projects known as earmarks, calling them the "gateway drug to spending addiction."

The appointments were made by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). In a joint statement, the two leaders emphasized their interest in reducing the size of government.

"Americans are rightly concerned about the growth of government, while the rest of the country has been tightening their belts," McConnell said, adding that his appointees "will provide common-sense recommendations to reduce Washington spending."

It was not clear when the 18-member commission would begin work. While Obama has appointed six members and Senate Democrats have appointed three, aides to Pelosi said she is still deciding among numerous House members who have expressed interest in serving.

Some Democratic appointees, including Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, have signaled their intention to protect entitlement spending, which would require higher taxes.

In interviews, Ryan, Camp and Hensarling said they would not rule anything out, but none was optimistic about the prospect for compromise.

"I want to go into this thing with an open mind and a good attitude," Ryan said, "But I don't go in thinking we should be taxing our way out of the problem."

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