Orszag: Hill Budget Resolutions Aren’t “Twins” of the President’s Plan, But “Brothers”

By Lindsey Ellerson

Mar 25, 2009 12:00pm

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports: Just four hours before the president makes an appearance on Capitol Hill to speak with Senate Democrats about his budget, OMB Director Peter Orszag held a remarkably conciliatory conference call, painting the divide on the budget as miniscule. At a time when the administration is facing criticism from both Democrats and Republicans over his massive $3.6 trillion budget blueprint, Orszag told reporters that the administration believes the budget mark-ups in the House and Senate are 98% in line with the president’s blue print. “I think it’s very clear that if you look at the budget resolutions that are being adopted by both he House and Senate they are some the same family as the president’s budget – the resolutions may not be identical twins to what the president submitted but they are certainly brothers that look an awful lot alike.” Orszag said that they are “very pleased” that their resolutions are “fully in line” with the four key principles that the President’s proposal sent to Congress in February: Cutting the deficit in half, health care, energy and education. Orszag said the mark-ups in the House and Senate meets the President’s standards on each priority. While claiming that 98% of the budget mark ups are similar to the president’s blueprint, Orszag conceded that there were some adjustments made on the Hill, but he took pains to impress that the administration believes these changes are minor. CHANGES IN DISCRETIONARY SPENDING Orszag said that the differences in discretionary spending are relatively modest. “Out of the 18 functional categories of the budget 13 are exactly the same in the Senate, 12 are exactly the same in the House. And even when you incorporate the differences, if you look at overall discretionary spending, the difference – relative to the House compared to the president’s budget proposal – is 0.6% and in the senate is 1.2 %” CHANGES IN MAKING-WORK-PAY & CAP-AND TRADE Orszag said the administration’s tying the revenue from making-work-pay to cap-and-trade of course was changed in the House and Senate resolutions. He went slightly further than the President’s response on this at his prime-time press conference last night, saying that since the tax cuts are in the stimulus package (and thus locked in for two years) the administration will use that time to “figure this out.” He said part of figuring it out would be tasking Paul Volker with the president’s Recovery Advisory Board (PRAB) to take up this issue – among many others – in examining “ways of being more aggressive at reducing the tax gap which could provide funding for tax provisions including an extension of the making work pay tax credit.” The board will report back to the Obama by December 4th. On changes in cap-and-trade, Orszag said that the political climate is ripe for the administration’s proposal to be taken up outside of the budget. “There is already legislation that is being considered on the House side, the senate is also active. The fact that it is not treated in the budget resolution the same way that we proposed in no way means that the House and Senate cant take the legislation up. And I think some may argue that the political economy of getting climate change done this year may actually be better outside of the budget resolution that inside of it.” WHAT ABOUT RECONCILIATION? Orszag was asked about the controversial procedure of budget reconciliation in which Democrats would be able to pass overhauls (like health care) without the threat of a Republican-led filibuster. “Reconciliation is not where we’d like to start but we are not willing to take it off the table,” Orszag said. “There clearly are some differences in the senate and the house on this topic and that will be worked out assuming that both resolutions are adopted by the respective bodies that would be something that would be worked out in conference.” The president heads to the Hill today to meet with the Senate Democratic Caucus this afternoon. – Sunlen Miller

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