A well-known North Idaho Democrat was in town this week for a family vacation, taking a break from running a commission tasked with finding ways to reduce the federal debt.
Coeur d’Alene native Bruce Reed, 50, was selected in March to be executive director of President Barack Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which will recommend by year’s end ways to balance the federal budget, reduce the deficit and address the growth of entitlement spending.
Reed also hit the news during the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan, who was his deputy when he served as domestic policy adviser under President Bill Clinton. Some 180,000 pages of work product were examined during the hearings, Reed said.
“Reporters and senators alike looked at her work and concluded that her parts of it were thoughtful and my parts of it were boring and that there was nothing to see there, which was the right decision,” Reed said with typical self-deprecating humor.
The deficit commission job is Reed’s first White House position since serving under Clinton. When the commission’s work is completed, Reed said, he’ll return to his job as CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, a nonprofit corporation that pushes a centrist agenda for the party.
The commission is evenly split between Republican and Democratic members of Congress along with four nonpartisan business and labor appointees and two chairmen. It is led by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, chief of staff under Clinton. The commission’s initial meetings, Reed said, involved bringing in experts to describe the scale of the problem and explain the range of solutions. He said the commission’s recommendations ultimately will be a question of selecting options that already are well known.
“The answers are no great mystery,” Reed said. “The big challenge is finding bipartisan consensus and the political will to act. The purpose of the commission is to give both sides the courage to act together.”
The final report must be supported by 14 of the 18 commission members, which places members of Congress in a rare position, Reed said.
“Bipartisanship is an unnatural act in Washington, so serving on the commission has given everyone an opportunity to sit down and actually listen to each other,” he said. “The executives from the private sector are constantly reminding the members of Congress that we’re in business to get something done and we could get to the point a little quicker.”
Reed’s connection to Kagan goes back to Princeton University, where he was a year behind her. They worked together on the student newspaper and both went on to study at Oxford University in England. They remained friends in Washington, D.C., and Kagan belonged to the same book group as Reed’s wife. When Reed was promoted to chief domestic policy adviser in 1996, he asked Kagan to be his deputy.
“She was so much smarter than everybody else in government,” Reed said. “She worked nonstop. She’s not a political person in any way but she has the ability to crystallize the key issue in any debate and explain it in simple terms.”
Kagan went on to become dean of Harvard Law School and solicitor general under Obama. Clinton had nominated her for an appellate court judgeship, but the nomination expired without action after he left office.
Reed said that Kagan would have risen to the top regardless, but playing a role in her future made him feel “like one of the scouts who introduced Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers. She just needed the chance for the political world to see her work, and they took to her immediately. I’m delighted to bask in her glory now.”
Reed and his family returned to Washington, D.C., Wednesday after a week in Coeur d’Alene. They come back to visit family in the summer and at Christmas. He and his wife, Bonnie LePard, daughter, Julia, 17, and son, Nelson, 15, split their time between his parents and his wife’s parents, Jim and Barbara LePard. Reed’s mother, Mary Lou Reed, is a former six-term Idaho state senator, and his father, Scott Reed, is an attorney. Reed’s wife, a land-use and preservation attorney, runs a nonprofit called The Tregaron Conservancy, which protects green space in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve been in Washington 25 years now, long enough to be part of the problem,” Bruce Reed said. “We like the work. But … I wish we could figure out a way to spend our summers here, because it’s not a close contest … in the summertime.”