Unless Congress and the Obama administration reform entitlement programs and take other steps to curb federal spending, the country will be faced with an economic crisis that is exponentially worse than the current recession, congressional appropriations and budget committee members warned yesterday.

The federal government's spending habit is an "economic cancer," Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., a fiscally conservative so-called Blue Dog Democrat who formerly served on the Budget Committee, said during a press conference. "Our problems are metastisizing so fast, it may be a benign tumor, but it's still a tumor."

Cooper, three other lawmakers, and former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker called for the formation of a bipartisan task force that will recommend a plan to Congress for paring down the national debt.

The other lawmakers were Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Walker announced a $1 million advertising campaign to push for fiscal responsibility in Washington.

The lawmakers and Walker were flanked by posters warning the nation faces $56.4 trillion in financial liabilities - or about $184,000 per person - when entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security are taken into account.

Democratic leaders and Obama administration officials have given their blessing to the idea of a fiscal responsibility task force, the lawmakers said. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., is "intensely interested and committed to going forward" with a commission, Conrad said.

Voinovich said lawmakers wanted to attach the task force to stimulus legislation and were assured by administration officials that President Obama would "take it seriously." But the administration officials wanted them to postpone the task force's creation until after the stimulus legislation is enacted.

But Wolf cautioned that a fiscal responsibility panel would need to be assembled quickly. "The stimulus without the commission could very well be very bad for the country," he said.

The senators also talked about the cuts they hope will be made to stimulus legislation pending in the Senate. Conrad declined to specify what might be carved out as a result of Senate Democrat and Republican negotiations, but said he hopes a chunk of the bill's proposed spending will be reallocated toward housing needs. Voinovich said he will vote against the stimulus bill if it contains spending items that could be taken care of through the appropriations process or in an omnibus funding bill.

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