One of the co-chairmen of the president's newly created debt commission called the job a "suicide mission" on Sunday, saying the task of correcting the country's "unsustainable" fiscal path is one of the toughest he's tackled.
Former Sen. Alan Simpson told "Fox News Sunday" that he and fellow co-chairman Erskine Bowles are "jumping without a parachute" in trying to forge agreement on ways to reduce the soaring national debt and unshakably high deficits.
Illustrating his point, Bowles said a controversial value-added tax -- a form of a national sales tax -- should be under consideration as the panel pushes for a set of congressional recommendations by December.
"I think it's something that ought to be on the table," said Bowles, former President Clinton's one-time chief of staff. "I'm not taking anything off the table."
Simpson, though, said a value-added tax could not be imposed without changing the income tax structure. Though he said "absolutely nothing" is off the table in finding ways to balance the budget and pay down the debt, he tried to calm concerns that the panel represents the first step toward a wave of tax increases.
Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, said he's not a "stalking horse" for tax hikes.
"Erskine and I are in this for our grandchildren," he said. "I'm a stalking horse for my grandchildren."
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the national debt -- which is approaching $13 trillion -- will reach 90 percent of the U.S. economy by 2020.
"It is not just unsustainable. It is unconscionable," Simpson said.
Bowles said he would like to find ways to cut spending before taking up the possibility of tax increases. He said the massive portion of the budget eaten up by entitlement programs like Social Security is a "formula for disaster," and that those programs cannot be sacred cows.
The idea of a value-added tax has generated a lot of controversy in Washington in recent weeks, as top officials connected to the Obama administration have openly discussed its implications. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insists the president is not considering it, but Obama himself appeared open to the idea in an interview last week.