December 9th, 2010
03:24 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama did not attend a White House meeting Thursday with members of his own debt commission, irking some of the Democrats on the panel who were expecting a high-level push from the commander-in-chief to show that its comprehensive deficit reduction plan is being taken seriously by the White House.
"He should have at least dropped by," one Democratic member of the debt commission told CNN, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wanted to speak more freely about the panel's private meeting.
A second senior Democratic aide close to the panel added that commission members were miffed and privately believe the President did not attend because it would have been awkward "given the fact that he has just endorsed $900 billion in deficit spending" with the tax cut deal.
Gibbs noted that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House Budget Director Jack Lew did attend the meeting with co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson and the other members of the 18-person debt commission.
In the administration's defense, Gibbs noted that it was after Congress failed to agree on a debt commission that the President stepped up and created his own panel by executive order, and he said the White House is committed to taking steps to reduce the crushing debt. He noted there are a "number of decisions that are going to have to be made in order to get our fiscal house in order."
Gibbs said that the price tag of the tax deal as currently constructed is "somewhere in the range of" $700 billion to $800 billion, while budget experts have estimated it could run as high as $900 billion to $1 trillion.
The press secretary sidestepped questions about whether the White House will follow through on either the commission's call for a formal budget summit with all parties or whether the administration will put together a comprehensive plan to solve the debt crisis along the lines of the commission's blueprint, which called for increases in the gas tax and Social Security tax as well as deep cuts to agriculture subsidies and other popular federal programs.
"I don't want to get ahead of where they are in terms of budgetary decisions," Gibbs said of the administration's budget team.
After the White House meeting, Bowles and Simpson put out a joint statement urging the President to start negotiations with leaders in Congress early in January and put together a "comprehensive plan to restrain spending across the federal budget, enact broad-based tax reform that lowers rates and reduces the deficit, take steps to bring down health care costs, and make Social Security solvent for the next 75 years and beyond."
Bowles and Simpson said the plan should be unveiled during the President's State of the Union address, which is expected to happen in late January, and then both parties should cut a deal on deficit reduction before approving another increase in the federal debt limit.
"While no Commissioner supports every element of the Commission plan, the nation desperately needs a broad, bipartisan agreement on a plan that would get our debt under control and safeguard our economic future," said the co-chairs. "Our businesses will not be able to grow and create jobs and our workers will not be able to compete without a strategy to get this crushing debt burden off our backs. If we fail to act today, we will be forcing far more difficult choices on the next generation. 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."