WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Tuesday that every politically painful choice must be considered – including spending cuts, tax increases, even changing the new health care law – as he launched what he hopes will be a bipartisan effort to reduce the government’s soaring budget deficits.
“Everything has to be on the table,” Obama said after meeting with the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform at its first session.
Despite his own campaign promise not to raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $200,000 annually, Obama said that it was a political game to try to get a president to rule things in or out when facing a debt crisis.
“It’s an old Washington game, and one that has made it all but impossible in the past for people to sit down and have an honest discussion about putting our country on a more secure fiscal footing,” he said in the White House Rose Garden.
“So my message is simple: We’re not playing the game.”
Underscoring his commitment to consider any recommendations, Obama agreed in private with a Republican demand that the health care law be open to possible changes, according to commission co-Chairman Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming.
Several Republican commission members asked during its session whether the president’s charge to put everything on the table meant they could revisit the recently enacted health care law, spurring Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., to react.
“This really shouldn’t be a forum for revisiting the greatest hits of the latest health care reform debate,” Durbin said. “Parts of the decisions made there have to be reconsidered here, I’m sure, but I think we need to get beyond that.”
To assure bipartisanship, it can make only recommendations to Congress that 14 of its 18 members support.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., suggested that the panel first try to cut waste and fraud in spending and to collect more in taxes already owed. He said that the Internal Revenue Service had estimated that it failed to collect $345 billion a year in income taxes owed, either because people reported too little income or took too many deductions.
“If we can put a man on the moon, if we can think about landing an astronaut on Mars, we can collect more of the taxes owed,” he said. “We should not cut one dime of federal benefits or raise one dime of federal taxes until we have done everything we can to collect the taxes that are already owed.”