Lew To Get Second Swipe As OMB Director
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
When Jacob Lew finished his first tour as White House budget director in 2001, he left behind a budget surplus of $237 billion. Now President Obama has nominated Lew to take a second swipe at the job and the circumstances could scarcely be more different. Lew will face a budget deficit of some $1.3 trillion, and decisions that will be difficult to say the least.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: President Obama had high praise for 54-year-old Jacob Jack Lew, as he announced his choice for director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House yesterday.
President BARACK OBAMA: If there was a hall of fame for budget directors, then Jack Lew surely would have earned a place for his service in that role under President Clinton.
NAYLOR: Lew would succeed Peter Orszag, who announced his resignation last month. Under President Clinton, Lew oversaw three years of budget surpluses after years of deficits.
Ms. BARBARA CHOW (Office of Management and Budget, Clinton Administration): He's going to have to reproduce a lot of that magic again this time.
NAYLOR: That's Barbara Chow, who worked with Lew at the OMB in the Clinton administration. Now at the Hewlett Foundation, Chow says Lew was one of the best OMB directors ever, smart and collaborative.
Ms. CHOW: OMB is often a kind of a job I think where it feels a little bit like it's just telling everybody no. But it's actually a job, when done well, I think, where the person at the helm is bringing together a lot of disparate points of view into something that is a coherent administration policy. And Jack is superb at doing this.
NAYLOR: As budget director, Lew's first task would be to draw up the administration's next budget plan, usually unveiled in February. The always arduous process will be especially challenging this time, as Lew will face some seemingly intractable problems. Stubbornly high unemployment and the lingering effects of the recession mean revenues are down; spiraling health care costs and baby boomer retirements mean that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make an ever-growing part of the federal budget.
And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demand billions of dollars in defense spending. Before beginning his first stint at OMB in the 1990s, Lew served as deputy director under Alice Rivlin. Rivlin says the next Obama budget will be extremely important.
Ms. ALICE RIVLIN (Former Director, Congressional Budget Office): The president has said he wants to focus not only on getting the economy moving, but on bringing down the long-run deficit. So here's the chance in this next budget to show that he can do two things at once and to convince the Congress that he has a sensible plan to bring the deficit down.
NAYLOR: Rivlin serves on the president's deficit reduction commission which is looking into those long-term deficit issues. It's due to issue its report December 1st.
Lew is part of a negotiating team that reached a bipartisan agreement with Congress on a balanced budget in the 1990s, and he remains respected on both sides of the aisle. One of the Senate Republicans on the Budget Committee at that time was New Hampshire's Judd Gregg. Now the senior Republican on the Budget Committee, Gregg says he'll support Lew's nomination, calling him thoughtful, smart and capable.
Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): He's taking on the job, however, where the numbers don't match up. I mean, this administration is running up massive spending and massive debt. And it's really a job of the OMB director to say the emperor has no clothes. And that's the situation today.
NAYLOR: One element in any plan will have to be the tax cuts that were enacted under President George W. Bush, and that expired January 1st. The administration clearly plans to let taxes rise on at least some incomes as a result. But the president also promised in his campaign not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.
Lew's confirmation hearings are expected to begin this fall.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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