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Obama Mocked Commissions, Then Established Four

President Barack Obama stands with the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Erskine Bowles, second from right, and Alan Simpson, right, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010. AP

President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is meeting today as part of its efforts to craft recommendations by December on how best to address America's red-ink problem.

Mr. Obama established the commission in February, saying debt and deficits can "hobble our economy" and "saddle every child in America with an intolerable burden."

Yet the president's decision to establish a commission to address a problem he described as potentially catastrophic seems odd in light of his earlier criticism of commissions in general. As Ari Shapiro noted on National Public Radio today, the president mocked the notion of commissions to address problems back when he was a candidate.

Here's Mr. Obama on September 18, 2008, not long after the economic collapse: "Senator McCain's first answer to this economic crisis was - get ready for it - a commission. That's Washington-speak for 'we'll get back to you later.'"

"Folks, we don't need a commission to spend a few years and a lot of taxpayer money to tell us what's going on in our economy," he continued. "We don't need a commission to tell us gas prices are high or that you can't pay your bills. We don't need a commission to tell us you're losing your jobs. We don't need a commission to study this crisis, we need a President who will solve it - and that's the kind of President I intend to be."

To be fair to the president, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform was created after the Senate failed to pass legislation establishing a bipartisan panel that would have been able to force up-on-down votes in Congress on deficit reduction measures. He pushed for the stronger panel before accepting the current commission, which has no enforcement power.

Still, as Shapiro notes, most commissions end up having little real world impact - much as then-candidate Obama suggested. (One notable exception is the Sept. 11 commission.) The deficit commission is just one of at least four commissions set up by the Obama White House: there are also commissions on the BP oil leak, nuclear power and potentially creating a museum of the American Latino.

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