Orszag appreciates Congress’ handiwork

ORSZAG APPRECIATES CONGRESS’ HANDIWORK…. By most accounts, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, wasn’t doing the White House any favors with his work on the federal budget. Conrad looked to cut a lot of spending, scale back the president’s middle-class tax cut, and restore “some of the money-saving budget gimmicks” Obama sought to eliminate.

Brian Beutler noted reports that suggested Conrad and his House counterpart, Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C). “are taking machetes to Obama’s proposal.”

But as it turns out, the administration has seen what the Budget Committees have been working on, and seems rather pleased.

Congressional Democrats advanced budget outlines Wednesday that largely mirror President Barack Obama’s spending priorities, even while pushing marginal changes designed to tame ballooning deficits.

A version put forward by the House Budget Committee foresees a $598 billion federal deficit after five years. And there would be a $1.2 trillion red-ink figure for the 2010 budget year, as opposed to $1.4 billion under Obama’s plan as scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

Budget director Peter Orszag said the companion fiscal blueprints would bolster administration efforts to give a higher priority to education and clean energy programs as well as taking into account Obama’s desire to overhaul health care.

In a briefing for reporters in advance of Obama’s visit to the Capitol Wednesday, Orszag said the plans were “fully in line with the president’s key priorities.” Obama has said that he understands the process will necessitate considerable give and take, but that he doesn’t want to lose sight of the overall goals. He characterized them as “98 percent the same as the budget proposal the president sent up in February.”

What about health care? Conrad and Spratt are apparently presenting blueprints with some kind of health reserve to finance comprehensive reform. Their blueprint won’t include money for the reserve fund. While that certainly sounds like a bad thing, Jonathan Cohn explains otherwise.

If you’re interested in seeing more about Orszag’s take on the budget committees’ work, I’m including a portion of the transcript below.

From Orszag’s teleconference with reporters this morning:

“First, we are very pleased that the House and Senate Budget Committees are taking up resolutions that are fully in line with the President’s key priorities for the budget. Not only do they embody the four key principles that the President has put forward for the budget, but they are 98 percent the same as the budget proposal the President sent up in February.

“With regard to the four principles, as the President said last night and as we have emphasized since the budget was sent up, we want to make sure that the budget reflects key investments in health care, in energy, in education and cuts the deficit in half. And both the House and Senate Chairmen’s marks do precisely that. First, with regard to cutting the deficit in half, the House Budget Committee’s resolution hits $586 billion in 2013; the Senate Budget Committee’s resolution hits $570 billion in 2013. Both of those meet the standard of cutting the deficit in half.

“With regard to health care, exactly as under our budget submission, both the House and Senate include deficit-neutral reserve funds to kick-start the health reform process. I think there’s been some misunderstanding about what a budget resolution does. The way the budget resolution implements the proposals that the President put forward and the concept that the President put forward is through a deficit-neutral reserve fund. The reserve fund that we had in our budget was also deficit-neutral, and so, again, the budget resolution is just reflecting precisely the approach that the President put forward in our budget.

“With regard to energy, again, exactly as under the President’s budget. We had a deficit-neutral reserve fund, and both the House and Senate marks also have a deficit-neutral reserve fund for clean energy.

“With regard to education, in addition to the $100 billion that was in the Recovery Act, the Chairmen’s marks in both the House and Senate include funding for the proposed increases in Pell Grants that the President put forward, albeit they do it on the discretionary side rather than the mandatory side. And in addition to that, they create a deficit-neutral reserve fund, which would permit mandatory proposals in the education sphere, including perhaps making the Pell Grant mandatory.

“Now, clearly there were some adjustments that were made, but let’s examine what the adjustments are. With regard to discretionary spending, out of the 18 functional categories in the budget, 13 are exactly the same in the Senate; 12 are exactly the same in the House. And even when you incorporate the differences, if you look at overall discretionary spending, the difference relative to the House compared to the President’s budget proposal is 0.6 percent, and in the Senate it’s 1.2 percent. So, again, some differences, but relatively modest.

“Another thing that has been noted is that we had tied the extension of Making Work Pay to revenue from cap and trade. The House and Senate budget resolutions do adopt a different approach. I would note with regard to Making Work Pay that we have already in the Recovery Act gotten two years of that tax credit. So we have two years to figure this out.”