Elmendorf Tapped for Another Term at CBO

Elmendorf Tapped for Another Term at CBO

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Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas W. Elmendorf was reappointed Wednesday by House and Senate leaders, despite tensions between him and new House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, over GOP efforts to repeal the Democratic health care reform legislation.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joined Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., in defending the Democratic CBO director, who was appointed in the last Congress. The House formally approved Elmendorf’s appointment earlier today and the Senate is completing the necessary paper work, according to Senate and CBO aides.

“Over the last two years, Director Elmendorf has done an outstanding job,” Conrad said in a statement. “He has led the agency during one of the most challenging periods ever faced by CBO, a period of economic upheaval and significantly increased legislative activity. Throughout this time, Director Elmendorf has demonstrated the highest standards of professionalism, and consistently provided Congress with accurate and timely information.”

Conrad added that Elmendorf has been “an unbiased and fair umpire, calling it like he sees it, regardless of the political fallout.”

Elmendorf stepped in as director two years ago, succeeding Peter Orszag, who moved on to become President Obama’s White House budget director. Elmendorf, a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, was originally tapped by then House-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The lean, low-key economist generally eschews the media spotlight, but it hasn’t been easy for him to escape the glare. As head of the agency created by Congress to be the official arbiter of the bottom-line budget impact of federal legislation, Elmendorf regularly finds himself in the middle of the nation’s noisiest, most partisan fights, with all sides clamoring for an analysis to bolster their positions. During the fierce fight to overhaul health care, for example, if Elmendorf said a package would add to the deficit, the measure quickly lost its luster given the mounting concern about runaway spending. The Senate spent months crafting a bill that could get a CBO score that was at least deficit-neutral.

Since enactment of the legislation early last year, the health care reform controversy continues to dog Elmendorf. He drew fire from Republicans on the Hill over CBO’s analysis of the law in the wake of GOP efforts to repeal the president’s signature measure. Earlier this month, the non-partisan agency projected that repeal of health care reform would raise the budget deficit by $230 billion over the next decade. The Republicans charged the bill was filled with budget gimmicks and would raise the deficit by a half trillion dollars.

While noting in his report that Congress was unlikely to go along with the projected cost savings in the legislation, the CBO chief stuck by the non-partisan agency’s estimates. He pointed out that his agency’s numbers must be based on the laws Congress has already written, not on speculative projections about what future Congresses might do.

Earlier today, Elmendorf released the CBO’s Economic Outlook for the coming decade, which forecasts that the latest round of tax cuts approved by Congress last month will leave the federal budget $1.5 trillion in the red this year, the largest deficit ever recorded and the second largest ever as a share of the overall economy.

The deficit is $414 billion deeper than projections from last August, largely due to the individual and corporate income tax and payroll tax cuts that Congress and President Obama enacted in December. Though policymakers are hoping those cuts will stimulate more rapid economic growth, the usually cautious CBO is only projecting 2.8 percent growth for 2011, which is on the low end of private forecasts.

Elmendorf told reporters that the “U.S. faces daunting economic and budgetary challenge,” with production and employment likely to stay well below the economy’s potential for a number of years and the unemployment rate, now 9.4 percent, declining only gradually over the next five years.

“The recovery in employment has been slowed not only by the moderate growth in output in the past year and a half but also by structural changes in the labor market, such as a mismatch between the requirements of available jobs and the skills of job seeks, that have hindered the reemployment of workers who have lost their jobs,” he said.

A Princeton undergrad, Elmendorf got his PhD at Harvard in 1989 and taught there for a few years. After his stint at CBO from 1993 to 1995, Elmendorf, a Democrat, bounced around the Washington economics circuit. He was a senior economist at both the Federal Reserve Board and the White House Council of Economic Advisers. He became the deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy in 1999 and returned to the Fed in 2001, after President Bush took office. Elmendorf joined the Brookings Institution as a senior fellow in 2007 and was there when he was tapped for the CBO post.

The appointment of the CBO Director is made jointly by the Senate President Pro Tempore and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, based on the recommendations of the Chairmen of the Senate and House Budget Committees. Senate President Pro Tempore Daniel Inouye and House Speaker John Boehner are officially reappointing Director Elmendorf today. Elmendorf’s new term will expire on January 3, 2015.

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Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.