Politics

Dr. Orszag Prepares To Be OMB's Dr. No

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Barack Obama's choice to head the Office of Management and Budget had a confirmation hearing Tuesday. Peter Orszag, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, told the Senate Budget Committee that his top priority would be balancing short-term and long-term fiscal goals. He said he already was preparing himself to be Obama's "no" man.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Economist Peter Orszag is Mr. Obama's nominee to head the White House Office of Management and Budget. He testified before the Senate Budget Committee yesterday and told lawmakers that this is a momentous time. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK: There are two challenges of enormous, unprecedented size facing Orszag when he becomes budget director. Number one is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Number two, some of the worst budget deficits in American history. These require diametrically opposed solutions. To cure problem number one, the crisis, the government will spend a huge amount of money. That, in turn, will make problem number two, the deficits, much worse. So two ends of a massive game of budgetary tug-of-war. Peter Orszag will be the rope.

(Soundbite of Senate Budget Committee hearing)

Dr. PETER ORSZAG (Nominee, Office of Management and Budget): These twin challenges of economic recovery and fiscal responsibility will make the job of O.M.B. particularly challenging. But again, if confirmed, I relish and look forward to attempting to meet those challenges.

SEABROOK: Orszag was light on details. He told senators those would be in the president's first budget request to Congress coming in mid-February. But he did outline the funding priorities of the nascent Obama administration.

Dr. ORSZAG: Health care, energy, education, housing and obviously, support for the middle-class being kind of an overarching theme. I think you're going to see a lot of energy and activity surrounding those major items.

SEABROOK: Now, for the last couple of years, Orszag has been the head of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. So he has a good relationship with lawmakers. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican, said, well, that's about to be tested.

(Soundbite of Senate Budget Committee hearing)

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): You're popular. Yeah, a lot of people like you. But how long you think that will last after you become O.M.B. ...

Dr. ORSZAG: Not very long.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: When lawmakers want their pet-projects funded over others, Orszag is the guy they'll call. So Sessions asked him if he's prepared to go from being known as Doctor Orszag to Doctor No? His answer? Yes.

(Soundbite of Senate Budget Committee hearing)

Dr. ORSZAG: One of the things, in my experience, has been, it's not just whether you say no or not, but how you say it and whether you explain your reasoning. And that people are much less likely to get so angry at you if you explain yourself clearly.

SEABROOK: So Peter Orszag is already preparing himself to be Mr. Obama's no-man. And as Senator Sessions said, being nice helps. A little bit. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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