With President Obama's new budget predicting that this year’s deficit will hit a record $1.6 trillion, OMB Director Jack Lew is admitting that we may never see the budget surpluses he left behind when last serving as budget director under Bill Clinton.
“I wish I could stand here and say that we were on the edge of a surplus. When I left my last day in office I went to Congress and testified and projected $5.6 trillion surplus for the next ten years,” Lew told me. “I came back ten years later to look at projections of over $10 trillion in debt over the next ten years. It’s enough to break your heart. It’s going to take us a lot of hard work just to get to the point where we are not adding to the debt.”
But Lew also insists that Obama’s budget will make a real difference – and cause real pain.
“What I would tell you about this budget is it has a lot of pain…it does the job, it cuts the deficit in half by the end of the president’s first term, it has $400 billion of savings which would bring spending on domestic discretionary spending down to the level it was at in the Eisenhower administration and we have made tough choices,” he said on “GMA.”
Interestingly, Lew took a pass on criticizing the $61 billion in budget cuts House Republicans are hoping to pass this year – even though I asked him twice. Because the White House knows they will almost certainly have to accept many of those cuts to avoid a government shutdown later this year. The first test could come when current government funding runs out on March 4.
And Lew made no apologies for failing to take on entitlements as recommended by the President’s own budget commission – which detailed almost four times the deficit reduction in Obama’s budget.
“I have been doing this for almost 30 years and I think that if you look over the course of the last three decades it’s not possible to come up with an example where putting a controversial proposal out there has really made the difference in terms of bridging the bi-partisan chasm that you need in order to get something done. That happens by building trust, by developing relationships, by working together,” Lew said.
Watch for those first moves to come from that bipartisan Senate group led by Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Mark Warner.