Who had the worst week in Washington? Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.

Fiscal commission chairmen Alan Simpson, left, and Erskine Bowles on Capitol Hill on Dec. 3, 2010.
Fiscal commission chairmen Alan Simpson, left, and Erskine Bowles on Capitol Hill on Dec. 3, 2010. (Harry Hamburg)
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By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, February 20, 2011

In Washington, presidential commissions are where problems go to die.

Organized crime? Form a commission! (That happened in 1986.) Social Security? Form a commission! (2001.) Education? Form commissions! (1947, 1983, 1996 and 2001.)

And yet, when President Obama established the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform - aka the fiscal commission - last February to study the country's long-term debt problems and then suggest solutions, commission supporters argued that things would be different. The time had come - or the time had already past - when politicians could no longer pass the buck (literally) on the issue of the debt. Something had to be done. And fast.

Or not.

When President Obama delivered his budget to Congress on Monday, there were few of the debt-slashing proposals, including cutting Social Security spending, reduced the mortgage interest tax deduction and reforming Medicare and Medicaid, that the commission's proposal had recommended.

Asked at a Tuesday news conference about the discrepancy between the fiscal commission report and his budget, President Obama punted.

"It still provides a framework for a conversation," Obama said of the commission, later adding "I agree with much of the framework; I disagree with some of the framework." Um, okay.

Erskine Bowles, who chaired the commission along with former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, was slightly more blunt. The president's budget "goes nowhere near where they will have to go to resolve our fiscal nightmare," Bowles told The Post.

Of course, nothing and no one in Washington is ever really gone, and the recommendations could be reanimated at an even more desperate moment. But this commission may have been doomed from the start. The original idea - to load the group with members of Congress, who would help push the recommendations through the House and Senate - vanished amid political maneuvering.

In following the path to irrelevance that so many previous presidential commissions have trod, the debt commission had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington? E-mail chris.cillizza@wpost.com with your nominees.


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