Obama vows to get US budget in shape despite stimulus plans
Announces CBO chief Peter Orszag will be director of the Office of Management and BudgetCHICAGO (AFP) — President-elect Barack Obama Tuesday vowed to erase red ink and wasteful spending from the deficit-ridden US budget even while promising to do what it takes to revive stalled growth in the short run.
Obama acknowledged that his plans to inject billions of dollars in stimulus spending would drive the deficit still higher, but stressed the long-term benefits of investment in crumbling US infrastructure and health care systems.
Appointing Peter Orszag to head the White House Office of Management and Budget, he said the 39-year-old graduate of Princeton and the London School of Economics would ensure no "mountain of debt" is left for future generations.
Orszag, who is now the director of the Congressional Budget Office, "doesn't need a map to tell him where the bodies are buried in the federal budget," the president-elect told his second news conference in as many days.
Obama, who takes office on January 20, said he was not trampling on President George W. Bush's authority but insisted the economic emergency demanded that he present a clear sense of direction for the years ahead.
"We will go through our federal budget -- page by page, line by line -- eliminating those programs we don't need, and insisting that those that we do need operate in a sensible and cost-effective way," he said.
Obama also named Rob Nabors to serve as Orszag's deputy. Nabors is currently staff director of the powerful appropriations committee in the House of Representatives, and Obama said the pair were "outstanding public servants."
The appointments fleshed out Obama's economic team a day after he nominated New York central banker Timothy Geithner to be his Treasury secretary and named ex-Treasury chief Larry Summers as his top economic adviser.
Both Summers and Geithner cut their political teeth as senior members of president Bill Clinton's economic team, whose hallmark was deficit reduction.
The US government closed its books on the 2008 fiscal year September 30 with a record deficit of 455 billion dollars, and many analysts say the current fiscal year will end with a whopping gap of one trillion dollars.
Obama said his immediate plans to create 2.5 million jobs through an infrastructure spending spree required a heavy outlay -- reportedly as much as 700 billion dollars.
He pledged anew to cut taxes for 95 percent of working Americans, and has left himself some wiggle room on whether he will extend Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy after 2010.
"But as soon as the recovery is well under way, then we've got to set up a long-term plan to reduce the structural deficit and make sure that we're not leaving a mountain of debt for the next generation," he said.
Further economic appointments are expected soon, possibly at a follow-up press conference on Wednesday.
Those could include Obama's pick for commerce secretary, with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson reportedly in line for the job of promoting domestic industry, and perhaps Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell as energy secretary.
Obama is meanwhile expected next week to fill out his national security posts and select a secretary of state -- with former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton hotly tipped to serve as diplomat-in-chief.
Susan Rice, an Obama campaign advisor and a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, has emerged as the leading candidate to be nominated US ambassador to the United Nations, ABC News reported.
Unusually for a president-elect, Obama is publicizing his own economic agenda well in advance of taking office in a bid to reassure jittery investors around the world.
While Bush has been at pains to keep Obama abreast of developments, most recently over a bailout for stricken banking giant Citigroup, the Democrat reaffirmed that "there is only one president at a time."
But given the current "extraordinary circumstances," Obama said the public had to know "that we are putting together a first-class team and for them to have clarity that we don't intend to stumble into the next administration.
"We are going to hit the ground running."
This video is from CNN.com, broadcast Nov. 25, 2008.
Download video via RawReplay.com
Remarks of President-elect Barack Obama
November 25, 2008
I speak to you today, mindful that we meet at a moment of great challenge for America, as our credit markets are stressed, and our families are struggling. But as difficult as these times are, I’m confident that we will rise to meet this challenge – if we’re willing to band together and recognize that Wall Street cannot thrive so long as Main Street is struggling; if we’re willing to summon a new spirit of ingenuity and determination; and if Americans of great intellect, broad experience, and good character are willing to serve in government at this hour of need.
Yesterday, I announced four such Americans to help lead the economic team that will advise me as we seek to climb out of this crisis. Today, Vice President-elect Biden and I are pleased to announce two other key members of our team – Peter Orszag as Director and Robert Nabors as Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Before I explain why I selected these outstanding public servants, let me just say a word about the work I am asking them to undertake. As I said yesterday, the economic crisis we face demands that we invest immediately in a series of measures that will help save or create two and a half million jobs and put tax cuts in the pockets of the hard-pressed middle class. Many of those new jobs will come in areas such as energy independence, technology, and health care modernization that will strengthen our economy for the future.
But if we’re going to make the investments we need, we must also be willing to shed the spending we don’t. In these challenging times, when we are facing both rising deficits and a sinking economy, budget reform is not an option. It is an imperative. We cannot sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that have outlived their usefulness, or exist solely because of the power of a politician, lobbyist, or interest group. We simply cannot afford it.
This isn’t about big government or small government. It’s about building a smarter government that focuses on what works. That is why I will ask my team to think anew and act anew to meet our new challenges. We will go through our federal budget – page by page, line by line – eliminating those programs we don’t need, and insisting that those we do operate in a sensible cost-effective way.
Let me give you one example of what I’m talking about. There’s a report today that from 2003 to 2006, millionaire farmers received $49 million in crop subsidies even though they were earning more than the $2.5 million cutoff for such subsidies. If this is true, it is a prime example of the kind of waste I intend to end as President.
And we will also focus on one of the biggest, long-run challenges that our budget faces – namely, the rising cost of health care in both the public and private sectors. This is not just a challenge but also an opportunity to improve the health care that Americans rely on and to bring down the costs that taxpayers, businesses, and families have to pay.
That is what the OMB will do in my administration – it will not only help design a budget and manage its implementation, it will also help make sure that our government – your government – is more efficient and more effective at serving the American people.
There is no better person to help lead this effort as Director of the OMB than my friend Peter Orszag. Peter has been one of our nation’s leading voices on budgetary issues. It is said that a nation’s budget reflects its priorities. I believe that is true. And I know that Peter will bring to his work at the OMB a set of priorities that I – and the American people – share.
Throughout his career, he has made significant contributions in our understanding of all the major economic challenges we are now confronting – from reducing medical costs to saving Social Security to fighting global climate change to helping put the dream of a college degree within reach for more students.
As Director of the Congressional Budget Office, he reenergized and reinvigorated the agency, while shifting its focus to confront the health care crisis that is not only a cause of so much suffering for so many families, but a rapidly growing portion of our budget and a drag on our entire economy.
But it is not simply Peter’s past career that makes him qualified for his new appointment, it is his vision for the future. He believes, as I do, that even as we take steps to restore discipline to our budget, we must also take the steps right now that are necessary to solve our immediate crisis.
Peter doesn’t need a map to tell him where the bodies are buried in the federal budget. He knows what works and what doesn’t, what is worthy of our precious tax dollars and what is not. Just because a program, a special interest tax break or corporate subsidy is tucked into this year’s budget, does not mean it should survive the next. The old ways of Washington simply can’t meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
And no one is more able or more qualified to assist Peter in this work as Deputy Director of the OMB than Robert Nabors. Rob will bring to this post experience in the executive branch, at the OMB, where he helped the Clinton administration achieve balanced budgets, as well as in the legislative branch, where he led the appropriations committee staff as a driving force for a responsible budget. Together with Peter, Rob will help steer our budget through Congress so that I can sign it into law.
Now, let me be clear: these appointments and the appointments I announced yesterday are not the sum of my economic team. These appointees will work with those I have yet to announce – including the secretaries of Energy and Labor, Commerce and Health and Human Services and others in my administration – to design a recovery plan for both Wall Street and Main Street, and to put our economy on a path to long-term growth and prosperity.
Because at this moment, we must not only restore confidence in our markets. We must also restore the confidence of middle class families that their government is on their side – that it’s working for them – on their behalf – to meet their families’ needs. And that is exactly what I intend to do as President of the United States of America. Thank you.