Budget Chief Orszag To Leave Administration
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A key member of President Obama's cabinet is expected to announce he's stepping down soon. Budget director Peter Orszag played an important role in shaping both the president's stimulus bill and the health care overhaul. If he does resign, he would be the first senior member of Mr. Obama's cabinet to leave his post. For more, we've got NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley on the line.
Good morning, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Good morning, Renee. Good to be with you.
MONTAGNE: How much of a surprise is this?
HORSLEY: This is not a surprise. It's been rumored for some time. President Obama reportedly wanted Orszag to stay on, but Orszag never planned a long career in the budget office. As you say, a year and a half is about the normal tenure for somebody in this very high pressure job. By leaving this summer he would give the administration time to install a new budget director and then let that person put his or her stamp on next year's budget, which will be coming out this coming winter.
MONTAGNE: And remind us what role Orszag has played within this administration.
HORSLEY: Well, he brought a lot of credibility with Congress. Before coming to the White House he had spent a couple of years as head of the Congressional Budget Office. So he was intimately familiar with the federal budget.
Also, at CBO he had become an expert on health care policy and the key role that health care spending plays in driving the federal budget. So he was instrumental in crafting the administration's health care overhaul.
He's also been a big advocate for using data to drive decision making, both in health care and in other areas. Just a small example, Peter Orszag has sort of the mind of the mathematician and the physique of a distance runner. Last year, he passed out pedometers to people in the OMB on the theory that counting every step would encourage them to be more physically active and that that would improve the health of the workforce.
MONTAGNE: And besides his official duties, Orszag had an unusually high profile for a budget director.
HORSLEY: Yes, I suppose that's one reason you and I are talking about this.
MONTAGNE: Little glamorous there, which is unusual right there.
HORSLEY: Definitely. The White House Chief of State Rahm Emanuel said, early on, that Peter Orszag made nerdy sexy. And in the curious ways of Washington, that is certainly true. He dated a number of glamorous women during his tenure. He fathered a child with one of them, late last year. He's due to marry another in September.
People magazine, which doesn't ordinarily follow the Office of Management and Budget, covered his exploits. He also had an Internet fan base, some of whom said he put the OMG in OMB.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MONTAGNE: Well, all right.
HORSLEY: He got off to a little bit of a rocky start. He, early on, in his days at the budget office he accidentally set off the smoke alarms at the old executive office building when he tried to light a fire in a fireplace that has been sealed up.
MONTAGNE: OK. So, back to the job. Unlikely the next budget will have quite that level of a profile. But what are the challenges ahead for that person?
HORSLEY: You're right. I'm not sure the administration needs or even necessarily wants another slide rule sex symbol there. But the incoming budget director is going to face some daunting challenges.
The federal government as a whole is caught in a tug-of-war, right now, between spending enough money in the short run to preserve the fragile economic recovery, and at the same time, trying to come up with a longer term strategy to reign in the deficit. So the incoming budget director will be very much on the front lines in that struggle.
MONTAGNE: Scott, thanks very much.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you.
MONTAGNE: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.