GOP leader rejects White House terms for deficit commission

For Immediate Release:

February 5, 2010

Contact:Lori Montgomery

Washington Post

House Minority Leader John Boehner on Friday rebuffed a request from the Obama administration to work with Democrats to rein in soaring budget deficits, aides said. Instead, the Ohio Republican argued, the White House's plans for a bipartisan commission to address the deficits should be scrapped and redesigned.

Boehner told Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner in a telephone call that Republicans would refuse to participate on the 18-member commission unless it were comprised equally of Republicans and Democrats, and unless all GOP members were appointed by their caucus leaders, according to a top Boehner aide.

A deal between the White House and congressional Democrats calls for the commission to include six GOP lawmakers, six Democratic lawmakers and six presidential appointees, two of whom would be Republicans.

"We are not willing to be part of a process where the Democrats get to decide whom two of the Republicans are on the panel. That isn't bipartisan," the aide wrote in an e-mail recounting the call.

Boehner also told Geithner that the commission should be required to unveil its recommendations to reduce deficits before the November congressional elections, the aide said, arguing that candidates should be forced to defend any plan that involves "massive tax increases."

President Obama and Democratic leaders had hoped to have the commission announce its recommendations immediately after the election. They would then be sent to the lame-duck Congress, which would have to accept or reject them before a new Congress is seated in January.

Boehner told Geithner to "scrap the backroom deal" cut with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), and work with Republicans to reshape the commission's mission, makeup and structure, the aide said.

"This is a real opportunity to work together in a bipartisan way," Boehner told Geithner, the aide said, adding: "The ball is in their court now."

It was not immediately clear how the White House would respond to Boehner's stance. On Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), a leader in deficit-reduction efforts, warned that Obama would proceed with the commission with or without Republican cooperation. But some Senate Democrats say the effort would be meaningless without it, and a Republican aide said that such a commission would be "a farce."

Obama is expected to meet Tuesday with Boehner and other congressional leaders from both parties in the first of a series of promised summits. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to meet with Geithner about the commission sometime next week as well, aides said.

Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the White House budget office, said Friday, "We continue to consult extensively with Republican and Democratic leadership about the president's proposal for a bipartisan commission, to put our nation back on a fiscally sustainable path."