WASHINGTON — John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, issued a stinging denunciation Friday of the Obama administration's plan to create a fiscal discipline commission, calling it a "partisan Washington exercise" that's "rigged" to promote Democrats' spending policies.
"The Obama administration should scrap this partisan fiscal commission proposal immediately and start over on a process that includes Republicans and the American people," Boehner said after speaking with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
"Washington Democrats' definition of 'bipartisanship' continues to be writing proposals of their own behind closed doors, then unveiling them and demanding Republican support."
Republicans' definition of bipartisanship is unclear, however. Seven Senate co-sponsors of the bill calling for a commission last week voted no on the measure. So did Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who last year praised the commission idea as "he best way to address the crisis."
Boehner's sharp criticism, which came after Senate GOP leaders voiced similar skepticism, complicates White House efforts to create a bipartisan panel to make politically difficult recommendations on how to control the record debt that threatens to impede economic growth.
The White House is expected to announce a commission "very shortly," spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday.
Friday, Treasury spokesman Andrew Williams said the process of creating a commission continues. "We continue to consult extensively with GOP and Democratic leadership about the president's proposal for a bipartisan commission to make recommendations on ways to close the gap," he said, although Boehner said that no Republicans have been consulted.
The White House forecast a record $1.56 trillion deficit this fiscal year, falling only to $1.27 trillion next year. Most analysts agree that the deficits won't fall significantly unless lawmakers are willing to make major changes in Social Security, Medicare and taxes.
A blue-ribbon commission is a familiar way to help promote tough decisions; last week, 53 senators, including 16 Republicans _seven short of the 60 needed for passage — endorsed a commission plan sponsored by Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H.
That commission would have required Congress to vote shortly after the Nov. 2 elections on any recommendations agreed upon by 14 of the 18 commission members. Obama's panel, created by executive order, would be unable to mandate a congressional vote.
Among Boehner's recommendations to Geithner:
- Create a commission with 50-50 Republican-Democratic members.
- Give the public more time to review its recommendations. Under the congressional plan, the public would have about a month to study the suggestions.
- Allow the commission to consider cuts in discretionary spending, which includes popular domestic programs including transportation, housing, education and law enforcement. Otherwise, Boehner warned, tax increases could become too tempting to Democrats as a way of reducing deficits.
- Make some tough choices now, such as repealing some spending from last year's economic stimulus plan and using repaid money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bank bailout fund, to help reduce the deficit.
The White House faces a political dilemma as it designs its commission. Obama in recent days has urged more bipartisanship, notably in a 90-minute meeting with House Republicans last week. He plans to have leaders from both parties to the White House Tuesday for more talks.
"Where was he a year ago when we were talking to him about it?" McConnell asked on CNN after he voted against the plan. He said he prefers a commission that would look only at spending cuts.
(Kevin G. Hall contributed to this article.)
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