Task Force To Cut Deficit Without Hurting Recovery

President Obama has endorsed a bipartisan plan to name a special commission that would come up with ways to cut the spiraling deficit. The proposed task force will have a difficult job. They have to recommend ways to cut the deficit without hurting jobs or Wall Street.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And joining us now, as she does most Mondays, is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Well, we just heard Scott Horsley talked about a proposed bipartisan commission to deal with the budget deficit. Isnt this one of these recurring ideas that weve heard before?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: Yes, indeed. In fact, weve had bipartisan commissions before to deal with the deficit, and that didnt go anywhere. Weve had lots of commissions over the years. And everybody tries to model them after the commission that decided on base closings, or continually decides on base closings, when its time to close down the military bases. But that one is really unique, because there's an inevitability around that. Some bases are going to close, and the only question is which ones.

With others kind of commissions, it has much more of a crisis for them to have any kind of traction. Everybody has to believe that only the commission can fix something that is about to be desperate about it. That happened with the Social Security commission in 1982. But we've had Social Security commissions since then and Medicare commissions and deficit commissions, and none of them have made any difference at all.

Because there is not a sense that the deficit is a huge crisis, even though voters are upset about it. There's much more concern still, as you heard in Scott Horsley's piece, about unemployment, about upsets in the stock market, particularly at the end of last week when we saw the market drop after some senators said that they would fight the reappointment of Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Fed. So, the volatility there is still high.

SHAPIRO: Well, what is the outlook for Ben Bernanke? Is his reappointment really in danger?

ROBERTS: Well, over the weekend several senators worked quickly to shore up any doubts about that, that he would be confirmed this week is when it would have to happen, because they saw the markets drop. But, you know, you've got people saying you got to do this because of the markets. What's not clear is whether that line of argument works anymore, because people are so angry at that whole idea that you have to satisfy Wall Street.

And that's one of the things that we'll have to see how that plays out, you know, whether that argument can still work in Washington.

SHAPIRO: Right. That populist anger you mentioned seems to have been one of the driving forces in the Massachusetts senatorial election last week, which drove Republican Scott Brown to victory. So, President Obama delivers his State of the Union address this week. How do you expect him to deal with that anger in a speech?

ROBERTS: Well, I think there are a couple of ways he could go. He could try to rally his own troops and identify with the angry folks who are angry at Washington. He has used the word fight over and over again in his various appearances since the Massachusetts election. Of course, the problem with that is that he owns Washington at the moment. You know, he's been here a year now. This isn't some outside place to him.

But that does seem the likely course, with his appointment of David Plouffe, his former campaign manager, to come back in and help him with the political year. And that would certainly seem to be his approach.

Or the president could say to the Republicans, look, I really need you to save the country and see how they react. They haven't given him any reason to believe that they'll work with him. They haven't done it on the stimulus package; they haven't done it on health care. And, you know, health care is still out there as this great big thing that we've been talking about all year and that Congress has been working on all year. And we still don't know whether it's got any possibility of passing.

Democrats keep saying that they can get a health care bill but they can't tell us how they're going to get a health care bill.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Cokie Roberts. Thanks, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Um-hum.

SHAPIRO: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR.

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