Reporting from Washington — Amid wrangling over an expensive tax measure, the co-chairmen of President Obama's bipartisan fiscal commission called on the White House and lawmakers to begin seriously tackling the nation's deficit challenge in the new year.
Former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and ex-Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, who led the 18-member Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, met Thursday morning with Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to discuss the panel's final report, issued last week.
The recommendations of the group were not formally adopted – 11 of 18 members endorsed the plan, three shy of the supermajority required. But even members who rejected the specific blueprint said it was time for serious action on the deficit.
In a statement after their White House meeting, Bowles and Simpson urged Obama to begin that process by putting forward his own deficit reduction plan in his State of the Union address and new budget. He should also bring congressional leadership together for serious negotiations on a plan that could be enacted next year.
"We believe a bipartisan agreement should be reached before any long-term increase in the debt limit is approved," Bowles and Simpson said. That vote is expected to come next spring.
An administration official briefed on the meeting said there was "absolute agreement on the need to address the nation's unsustainable deficits," and that the president hopes both parties will work together to do so.
"The president and his economic team are now studying ideas produced by the commission to identify measures that can complement the administration's broad deficit-reduction strategy and he will look forward to continued consultation with the commission and members from both sides of the aisle," the official said.
Obama's 2012 budget will reflect that need to address the deficit, balanced against the "need to stimulate growth and job creation in the near term to ensure a lasting recovery," the official added.
The Thursday meeting came as the White House works to secure passage of a $900-billion legislative package that would temporarily renew the Bush tax cuts, extend unemployment insurance benefits and reinstate the estate tax, among other initiatives.
The commission statement did not comment on the merits of the negotiated framework. But speaking in Wyoming on Wednesday, Bowles said he was "deeply disappointed" by the agreement because it wasn't linked to long-term fiscal restraint, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.
The plan faces an uncertain future after House Democrats voted symbolically against it. The commission leaders urged lawmakers to act as the commission did.
"If we fail to act today, we will be forcing far more difficult choices on the next generation," the statement said. "Neither party can fix this problem on its own, and both parties have a responsibility to do their part. Americans are counting on us to put politics aside, pull together not pull apart, and agree on a plan to live within our means and make America strong for the long haul."