GOP Mulls Next CBO Director

Flush from their capture of the Senate, Republicans in both chambers are reviewing more than a dozen potential candidates to succeed Douglas W. Elmendorf as director of the Congressional Budget Office after his term expires Jan. 3.

They include Donald Marron, who directs economic policy initiatives at the Urban Institute and served as acting CBO director in 2006, and N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economist who happened to be on the dissertation committee for Elmendorf’s doctoral thesis, according to several sources who are familiar with GOP discussions. Marron and Mankiw declined to comment.

The appointment is being closely watched, with a number of Republicans pushing for CBO to change its budget scoring rules to use dynamic scoring, which would try to account for the projected impact of tax cuts and budget changes on the economy.

Elmendorf, a Democrat whose past jobs include chief of the macroeconomic analysis section at the Federal Reserve, still could be reappointed an unprecedented second time after his four-year term ends next year. He is highly regarded for his professionalism and impartiality among both Republicans and Democrats on the Hill, as well as among budget experts.

But that would buck a historical trend. Of the eight CBO directors since 1975, only two besides Elmendorf have been reappointed: Alice M. Rivlin, the first director of the CBO, and Robert D. Reischauer. Elmendorf was first appointed director in January 2009 to fill the unexpired term of Peter R. Orszag, who left to become President Barack Obama’s budget director. Elmendorf was then reappointed in 2011.

Elmendorf has not said publicly whether he would want another term, but when asked about reappointment during a press conference in August, he said, “I love doing this job. And I'm very focused on doing it. And I'm going to worry about what happens at the end of the year when we get to the end of the year.”

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Budget Committee who could become its chairman in the next Congress, offered little insight Wednesday into who he thinks Congress should appoint.

“I like Director Elmendorf and I have a lot of respect for him, but obviously I think his tenure is up in January, so it will be something that will need to be discussed,” he said.

Short List

Another person under consideration for CBO director — G. William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center — said he was “flattered” to be on the list. But, referring to previous CBO directors, he added: “No way do I meet the stature of a Rivlin, Reischauer, Orszag, [Douglas] Holtz-Eakin, [Dan L.] Crippen or Elmendorf.” Hoagland previously worked as vice president for federal affairs for Cigna, and earlier served as a top budget aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and former Senate Budget Chairman Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico.

Apart from Hoagland, only one other person on the list — William Beach, chief economist for Senate Budget Committee Republicans — acknowledged that he is under consideration. Beach will receive his Ph.D. in economics this month from the University of Buckingham in England. Other candidates declined to comment or did not return emails. One said he was not at liberty to discuss it.

Among those being considered, according to sources, are Alan D. Viard, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, and Alex M. Brill, a research fellow at AEI and former economist at the House Ways and Means Committee.

Also under consideration are Keith Hennessey, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who served as the senior economic adviser to President George W. Bush; John F. Cogan, an economist at the Hoover Institution; Warren Payne, the House Ways and Means Committee's GOP policy director; J.D. Foster, deputy chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and James C. Capretta, a health care policy expert who serves as a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a visiting fellow at AEI.

Other candidates include Jeffrey R. Brown, economist at the University of Illinois; and Katherine Baicker, economist and health care policy expert at Harvard.

Many but not all of those under consideration are economists who hold doctorates. So far, every CBO director has had a Ph.D., and all of the degrees have been in economics — except for Crippen, the fifth CBO director, who had a Ph.D. in public policy.

Hoagland said that, in his view, the CBO director should have a Ph.D. in economics, particularly because the director oversees the work of more than 200 employees, many of whom hold advanced degrees.

Whose Turn?

While GOP lawmakers and staff in both chambers are considering whom to appoint as CBO director, the House and Senate Budget committees also are in a dispute over whose turn it is to take the lead in choosing the next CBO director.

Under the requirements of the 1974 budget law, the CBO director is appointed by the House Speaker and Senate president pro tempore, who next year will be Utah Republican Orrin G. Hatch, after considering recommendations from the House and Senate Budget committees. No Senate confirmation is required.

But under an informal agreement, the House and Senate Budget committees take the lead in choosing the director on an alternating basis.

House GOP aides insist that it is the House’s turn since the Senate led on Elmendorf’s reappointment when former North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad chaired the Budget Committee in 2011. That appointment came shortly after the GOP won control of the House. House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio supported the reappointment.

This year, an argument is being made behind the scenes in the Senate that it's still the Senate’s choice since the House took the lead on Elmendorf’s initial appointment and the Senate only acted on his reappointment. That argument has not been resolved.

House and Senate Budget panel staff declined to comment on any of the reported candidates or the process that is underway, but one GOP aide acknowledged that “an array of candidates is being looked at.” The aide said he expects little to be said until the new chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees are chosen.

Georgia Republican Tom Price, the current vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, is expected to be named its next chairman. Ryan is vying to chair the House Ways and Means Committee next year. Jeff Sessions of Alabama is viewed as the likely next chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, where he is currently ranking Republican. But a challenge is possible from Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., who is ahead of Sessions in seniority on the committee.

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