The government already has made so many promises to so many expanding "mandatory" programs. Just keeping these commitments, without major changes in taxing and spending, will lead to deficits that cannot be sustained.
Take Social Security, Medicare and other benefits. Add in interest payments on a national debt that now exceeds $12.3 trillion. It all will gobble up 80 percent of all federal revenues by 2020,
government economists project.
That doesn't leave room for much else. What's left is the entire rest of the government, including military and homeland security spending, which has been protected and nurtured by the White House and Congress, regardless of the party in power.
"In the end, solving our fiscal challenge — so many years in the making — will take both parties coming together, putting politics aside, and making some hard choices about what we need to spend, and what we don't," Obama said in his weekly Saturday radio and internet address.
Still, his commission wouldn't have the power to force a congressional vote.
Obama's call for fiscal austerity came at the same time he signed legislation lifting the cap on government debt from $12.4 trillion — which is close to being breached — to $14.3 trillion to permit more borrowing.
The same law puts in place new budget rules praised by deficit hawks that would require future spending increases or tax cuts to be paid for with higher taxes or other spending cuts. "After a decade of profligacy, the American people are tired of politicians who talk the talk but don't walk the walk when it comes to fiscal responsibility," Obama said
It's not clear when the debt's day of reckoning will arrive. But the overall national debt over the next few years will rise to 100 percent of the gross domestic product
— a level viewed as alarming by the International Monetary Fund and international economists.
"One thing we can say with a fair amount of certainty," she said. "We never know when the wolf will be at our door. The wolf is very fickle and markets can turn very quickly. And a high debt level makes us very vulnerable to shifts in sentiment that we cannot predict