Ex-Hill Staffer’s New Project Tackles Federal Budget
The typical American family is touched by the federal budget in one way or another — grandma and grandpa get benefits from Social Security, the children might receive Pell Grants for college or mom and dad might have received a tax deduction on their home mortgage.
Still, many do not understand how the government raises and spends $3 trillion each year for the federal budget. Charles Konigsberg, a former senior Senate staffer and former adviser to White House budget directors, is hoping to simplify the budget process with a recently launched Web site and a weekly newsletter.
“More than anything else, the budget reflects our values as a nation,” Konigsberg said. “It’s how we divide up all of our resources … the process on how we decide to do that has always been interesting to me.”
Last week, Konigsberg’s consulting firm, the Federal Budget Group, launched www.GovBudget.com, which aims to be user-friendly and interactive to show how the U.S. government raises and spends public funds. Konigsberg also last month released the Washington Budget Report, a weekly newsletter that provides readers with analysis of federal budget developments.
The Cleveland native first came to Washington, D.C.. in 1979 while in college, and at age 48, Konigsberg still is working in a government-related field. Studying political philosophy at Kenyon College and later at Case Western Reserve School of Law, politics and government was in Konigsberg’s blood. His father was the mayor of a suburban city outside Cleveland.
“I started spending my summers on the Hill,” he said. “From the first time I came here, I just loved it. … I came back here every summer.”
He held internships throughout law school and wrote a paper about the Congressional budget process, which eventually helped him land a job with the Senate Budget Committee for then-Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) from 1983 to 1986.
“I wrote a Law Review article on the Congressional budget process and that led to my first job,” Konigsberg said. “It was kind of unusual for the Budget Committee to see a law student writing an article on the Congressional Budget Act, which was not the most visible area.”
He later moved to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, serving as chief counsel to the committee’s then-ranking member, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Most recently on the Hill, he served four years as general counsel to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) with the Senate Finance Committee.
He also worked with the administration of then-President Bill Clinton, serving as assistant director at the Office of Management and Budget. Konigsberg later went on to nonprofit organizations, lobbying for groups such as the United Jewish Communities and the Campaign for Health Reform.
Konigsberg’s current projects aim to help groups such as the ones he used to work with as they try to better understand the federal budget.
Konigsberg also is writing a book that discusses five issues dealing with the nation’s financial well-being — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the consequences of making permanent tax cuts approved by President Bush, the high interest rate of the national debt, the increase in defense spending and the lack of long-term investments.
“We’re often so focused on the upcoming budget year that we don’t really focus on long-term investments,” Konigsberg said. “A lot more thought should be given to investment spending, investing in our people, in our infrastructure.”
But looking beyond party lines is one way to address budget problems. Konigsberg has worked with both Democratic and Republican parties. He said his experience in the 1980s was one of bipartisanship and camaraderie, in which Members of Congress worked together to address issues with, among other topics, Social Security.
“The Senate was a very bipartisan place in the 1980s, and the leaders of the Senate and ranking members were generally very collaborative,” Konigsberg said. “That’s why you were able to get things done.”
Nowadays, it is a different story with more of a partisan atmosphere in Congress, Konigsberg said.
“Unfortunately so much of the budget today has become enmeshed in ideological rhetoric,” Konigsberg said. “I think that it probably has something to do with political campaigns becoming more about ideological issues … and so the real work of coming together and making smart policy decisions just hasn’t been done.”
Konigsberg said working on both sides of the aisle made him realize the importance of taking a nonpartisan approach to budget issues. It is this approach that he and his consulting firm, the Federal Budget Group, are taking when it comes to analyzing the federal budget.
“The approach that I really try to take in my budget report and on my Web site is to just get people the straight facts, without any ideology,” he said.
Konigsberg said his budget report and the Web site are intended for financial firms, interest groups and journalists to use as resources.
“I’m trying to translate into plain English everything going on in the budget process,” Konigsberg said.