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Published: Monday, 3/1/2010

Curbing the debt

PRESIDENT Obama's creation of a bipartisan commission to make recommendations to counter the alarming spiral in America's federal debt is promising. The debt stands at $12.4 trillion. Based on this fiscal year's anticipated deficit of more than a trillion dollars, it will continue to grow at a rapid rate if no action is taken.

The commission's Republican co-chairman, former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, put the matter colorfully. He said that if Americans don't reduce the ballooning national debt, "their grandchildren will be picking grit with the chickens."

The Democratic co-chairman, former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, from North Carolina, has a reputation as a firm-minded man of integrity.

Mr. Obama should be praised for picking up the ball that was dropped a few weeks ago when the Senate rejected the creation of such a panel. The proposal was a victim of the usual congressional wrangling. Republicans complained that it could lead to tax increases. Democrats were afraid that it could mean cuts in popular programs. The result was the body's familiar paralysis and no action.

Mr. Obama cut the Gordian knot by creating the commission, and sitting members of Congress from both parties are scheduled to be named to it. It is right that the two co-chairmen do not hold seats in Congress and thus are not facing election. That means they will be better able to carry out the President's mandate that changes to all programs - wars, taxes, Medicare, and Social Security - be on the table.

The commission is scheduled to report back in December, after the midterm elections, so that its conclusions do not fall victim to the fall political campaign. Such timing may also reduce the chance that campaign contributions will come into play as the commission considers its options.

Americans have a big stake in the successful work of this body - especially if we don't want our children or grandchildren to pick at grit with the chickens to pay off the debts we have incurred.

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