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Next Budget Director Will Get Earful

GOP Will Use Debate Over Orszag’s Replacement to Attack Obama’s Policies

Senators of both parties said Tuesday that despite the nation’s bleak fiscal situation, they want President Barack Obama’s next budget chief to be pretty much like the guy who has held the job for the past year and a half.

To be sure, Senate Republicans will grill Obama’s nominee to replace Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, using the confirmation process to cast a critical eye on the administration’s policies. However, Orszag managed to maintain his reputation as a fiscal hawk during his time in the administration, with some Republicans saying there was little Orszag could do to control red ink while working for a free-spending boss.

“The OMB director’s ultimate responsibility is to do what the president tells him to do,” said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), ranking member of the Budget Committee.

Orszag’s departure as director of the OMB is not official, but Members generally assume he will be gone within the next few weeks.

Both Democrats and Republicans praised Orszag’s work guiding the OMB during a time of great financial strain for the country, noting the difficulty of the job even in times of economic prosperity. But Senate Republicans expressed frustration that Orszag and his reputation for fiscal discipline while heading the Congressional Budget Office failed — in their view — to hold greater sway with the president.

Senate Republicans said they would use the confirmation hearings for Orszag’s replacement as a proxy to question the effect of the new health care law on the budget deficit and how the administration plans to address the growing federal debt.

“We’re going to make them defend this health care bill, which I think makes everything worse on the fiscal side,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Budget Committee.

Democrats also suggested the need for Obama to get the $1.6 trillion deficit and projected $13 trillion debt under control. They are likely to join the GOP in asking tough questions of whomever Obama nominates to succeed Orszag.

Centrist Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) praised the Obama administration’s efforts to rein in Washington’s checkbook. But he also offered the White House — as well as Congress — some subtle criticism, suggesting that both could do more to embrace Orszag’s very public and long-held views on the need for fiscal austerity.

Additionally, Carper said he would prefer Orszag to remain as OMB director through year’s end for the sake of continuity during the appropriations process and the debate over the fiscal 2011 budget resolution.

Carper pointed to an instance when Orszag testified before the Senate Finance Committee with a pitcher of diet soda by his side, rather than the customary water. Carper likened that story to what President Abraham Lincoln told critics who questioned his hiring of Ulysses S. Grant, an alcoholic, to be his top Civil War general. Lincoln told his critics to find out what Grant was drinking and give it to the rest of his generals.

“The president needs to find out what Orszag is drinking and give it to the rest of the Cabinet — and some for us,” Carper said.

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