These are our core beliefs

What I know about the inner-work­ings of pol­i­tics I learned in The Pow­er Bro­ker, and there­fore I don't claim to know much oth­er than the sausage-mak­ing involved in build­ing the Tri­bor­ough Bridge. Still, I was struck by the fol­low­ing pas­sage from Ryan Lizza's New York­er pro­file of Peter Orszag, the Direc­tor of the Office of Man­age­ment and Budget.

The first bud­get, [Robert Nabors, an OMB vet­er­an] told me, "was being designed with an eye toward what do we need to do to put the econ­o­my back on a more sus­tain­able path? What do we need for eco­nom­ic growth? And what do we need to do in order to trans­form the coun­try? Those were our over­ar­ch­ing prin­ci­ples." The bud­geteers took a hyper-ratio­nal approach, attempt­ing to deter­mine pol­i­cy and leave the pol­i­tics and spin for lat­er. He went on, "One of the things that would prob­a­bly sur­prise peo­ple is that this wasn't an effort where any­body cre­at­ed a top-line bud­get num­ber and said, 'This is the num­ber that we have to hit, and that's just that, and we'll fit every­thing else in.' Or, 'We can't go high­er than x on rev­enue,' or, 'We can't go high­er than y on spend­ing.' It was more of a func­tion­al bud­get than any­thing else: 'This is what we need to do. These are our prin­ci­ples. These are our core beliefs. And as a result this is what our bud­get looks like.'"

This is prob­a­bly the kind of thing that gives night­mares to the teabag­gers, but I love the idea of goal-ori­ent­ed bud­get cre­ation. Why not try to keep your eyes on the prize of actu­al tan­gi­ble out­comes like sus­tain­ble eco­nom­ic growth when you're wran­gling the world's most com­pli­cat­ed spread­sheet into submission?

2 replies on “These are our core beliefs”

Obama's bud­get: "Smart peo­ple" decid­ed "what we need to do," with no lim­its and no con­cern about revenues…

It's a cou­ple of weeks old now, but I just caught up enough in my mag­a­zine read­ing to reach Ryan Lizza's arti­cle in the May 4th New York­er enti­tled Mon­ey Talks, a report on how the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion has gone about prepar­ing the fed­er­al bud­get. And…

Huh. This entry has been ref­er­enced on con­ser­v­a­tive blogs that are alarmed by the above pas­sage. Bel­dar­Blog com­plains that Orszag's method had "no 'top-line bud­get num­ber' to lim­it the appetites of those 'smart peo­ple' as they set about to vin­di­cate their 'prin­ci­ples' by hurl­ing huge chunks of fed­er­al cash in their gen­er­al direction." 

First of all, "vin­di­cate their 'prin­ci­ples?'" I don't think "vin­di­cate" means what you think it does. No one is "jus­ti­fy­ing" or "defend­ing" their prin­ci­ples with a bud­get. They vin­di­cate dur­ing a debate. Admin­is­tra­tions "insti­tu­tion­al­ize" their prin­ci­ples via bud­gets. That's what pol­i­cy-mak­ing is. That's what Pres­i­dent Bush did when he direct­ed more of his bud­gets toward fund­ing pro­grams that "save Amer­i­ca one soul at a time." I under­stand if you don't agree with the poli­cies, but it's kind of sil­ly to assume that only one par­ty "hurls huge chunks of cash" at their prin­ci­ples. Please. It's not like Pres­i­dent Bush left the coun­try with the hefty sur­plus that was there when he began.

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