Appearing at his old alma mater, the Brookings Institution, Wednesday, Peter Orszag bid adieu to public sector employment in his final public appearance as director of OMB. He will officially leave the Obama administration Friday, but the Brookings event amounted to his “Greatest Hits” as budget director. Orszag focused on three main areas in his speech: reviewing the effects of the stimulus, discussing the budgetary implications of the new health care bill, and outlining some interesting ways that OMB has worked to modernize the federal government.
Beginning with the stimulus, he cited reports by economists Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi and analysis by CBO as evidence of its success. Questioned about whether it should have been bigger, Orszag responded with a politically realistic response, politely, answering that, (paraphrasing) “I was in the room, and there was 0.0000% chance politically of a bigger package.”
Moving on to healthcare, he stressed the importance of fully implementing its reforms to ensure that the deficit-cutting measures, which he said could reach $1 trillion in the second decade, actually occur. When discussing health alternatives Orszag respectfully dismissed Rep. Paul Ryan’s recent proposal, taking issue with its inability to address the highest-cost quarter of Medicare patients, who absorb an astonishing 85% of Medicare costs.
Finally, on the less sexy part of the job, Orszag described some efforts that OMB has taken to modernize the government while simultaneously curtailing waste. They included some obvious decisions, such as updating computer systems to ensure sure that entitlement payments were not being made to dead people or felons.
The Brookings setting was friendly and familiar – save one sonorous interloper. The man introduced himself as a representative of a Lyndon LaRouche PAC and launched into a song deriding the policies that Orszag, Larry Summers and President Obama have implemented. It was colorful to say the least, and not the type of serenade the sexy budget nerd expected. But Orszag handled it well, quipping to Ruth Marcus that her question must be in verse form.
Orszag concluded his presentation by thanking the Obama administration for giving him the chance to head OMB. CRFB, also, would like to sincerely thank Orszag for his dedication to our nation’s fiscal future, and wish him luck as he moves on to the Council on Foreign Relations.