President Obama will host a three-hour “Fiscal Responsibility Summit” at the White House Monday to “underscore how big the problems are.” Sixty members of the House and Senate, and representatives from various think-tanks and advocacy organizations from across the political spectrum will attend in an effort to sort out the nation’s fiscal woes.

The basics of the long-term entitlement problem are generally agreed upon. In April of 2008 members of the politically diverse coalition know as the Heritage-Brookings Fiscal Seminar published the paper, “Taking Back Our Fiscal Future.” In it, the experts agreed – even before the days of $1 trillion deficits – that:

Unsustainable deficits in the federal budget threaten the health and vigor of the American economy… The first step toward establishing budget responsibility is to reform the budget decision process so that the major drivers of escalating deficits—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—are no longer on autopilot.”

Thankfully, the members of the Heritage-Brookings Fiscal Seminar have been invited to participate in the summit. The authors, both left and right leaning, all support the creation of an independent and bipartisan commission to examine entitlements and present specific options for reform to Congress. In a statement released this week, the group outlined four key elements for an entitlements commission to be successful:

  • It must be truly bipartisan and develop solutions that command wide support.
  • It must have a broad mandate to address all aspects of the fiscal problem while fostering strong economic growth.
  • There must be no preconditions to the deliberations. All options must be on the table for discussion. Nobody should be required to agree in advance to any option.
  • Recommendations must go before Congress for an up-or-down vote with few if any amendments.

President Obama should heed this advice and use this event to push for such a commission. Monday’s summit has the potential to be a significant first step toward America’s long-term financial stability. It would be a major missed opportunity if the President allows it to devolve into yet another frivolous photo-op.