The Budget Director Leaves: Changing Widgets At The White House

Print Email

White House Budget Director Peter Orszag is about to resign, perhaps to get married and have a less hectic life. He certainly get a job in the private sector that will pay him several times what he makes today. The budgets and the results of the government’s spending have not been popular. Orszag, like most White House workers in all administrations, may simply be tired from the 80 hour weeks and treks up the hill to be cross-examined by Congress.

Orszag departure probably means very little. He will be replaced by another widget who will serve the President and his core economic aides including Larry Summers and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. There is not much power left at the top of the policy pyramid to share with those two titans.Obama has reached the point in his presidency where much of what he does is questioned by the public and some of those questions are pointed. A new New York Times/CBS poll shows his handling of the economy is not well-regarded. He has to account for all the money that has been spent, much of it in vain, to fix the jobs and housing problems. A new report card on HAMP was depressing. Jobs creation, beyond Census hiring, is nearly non-existent.

There has been talk that Larry Summers may leave toward the end of the year. He has a fondness for seven-figure consulting fees. As a past president of Harvard and Treasury chief, he would be a big “get” for corporate and private equity boards of directors.

As the president’s popularity is eroded by cataclysms, most of which over which he has little control and are growing in duration, the role of anyone on his economic team shrinks. Even Geithner, who recovered from early stumbles, has spent the last several months fighting for revaluation of the yuan, complex new financial rules, and whether stimulus or austerity is the better road out of the recession and into prosperity. His image has begun to suffer as the deficit increases and tax receipts do not. Even getting a jobs bill through Congress has become impossible.

The top financial people around the president have become widgets. The public does not much care who advises the chief executive. That probably extends to the Treasury Secretary. The fixes to the economy have not worked. A few new faces will not buy Obama any time, but they may bring with them new policy ideas that are modestly more effective than the current ones.

Douglas A. McIntyre