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NYT: Peter Orszag Out As WH Budget Director

The New York Times cites an anonymous source saying that Peter Orszag will step down as the head of the Office of Management and Budget.

Mr. Orszag, an economist who previously spent nearly two years as director of the Congressional Budget Office, somewhat reluctantly accepted Mr. Obama’s invitation to join the Cabinet after the 2008 election and never planned to stay more than two years. Typically, budget directors do not.

While the president recently urged Mr. Orszag to remain, the calendar for drafting the next budget weighed in favor of Mr. Orszag leaving sooner. So did Mr. Orszag’s personal calendar: He is getting married in September.

By fall, as Congress is taking final action on the budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, the Office of Management and Budget is busy preparing the next year’s budget request to be released next February. Mr. Orszag argued inside the White House that his successor should be in place to put the next budget together from the start.

Basically, the OMB Director is a brutal job and subject to quick burnout. I wouldn’t read any more into this than that.

However, Orszag was an architect of the White House strategy toward deficit reduction. According to the Jonathan Cohn tome on the subject, Orszag, not Ted Kennedy, got Barack Obama interested in health care, which is why the early days of the effort were punctuated with such visceral lines as “bend the cost curve” and “entitlement reform is health care reform.” Orszag also co-wrote the Diamond-Orszag plan for Social Security reform (with future Federal Reserve Board of Governors member Peter Diamond), which included modest benefit reductions. Orszag was an Administration champion for the Cat Food Commission as well, which has since hit some choppy waters after Alan Simpson revealed his true colors. Orszag wanted the President to try and adopt the recommendations of the Cat Food Commission even if they got voted down in Congress. So his absence during that upcoming debate is probably good news, I would say.

Orszag’s replacement could continue this recent OMB tradition of stressing medium-term deficit reduction over the short-term crisis in aggregate demand (although the political shop has a hand in this as well, with David Axelrod running around the White House waving around polling about the deficit, polling which isn’t even accurate). Or, he or she could understand the intense need for more short-term stimulus to keep the recovery from foundering, and defend a strong social safety net as a core Democratic value. The President claims to support the latter approach, but most of his actions seem guided by the Orszag deficit reduction strategy. He could end all doubt with the next appointment.

UPDATE: Here’s a short list of potential replacements. I’m not buying Byron Dorgan for a second.

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David Dayen

David Dayen