The New Republic senior editor Noam Scheiber has created some buzz with his new book The Escape Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Economic Recovery.
One of the juiciest nuggets Scheiber uncovered deals with a December 2008 memo written by Christie Romer, the incoming chair of President-elect Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, in which she suggested to eliminate the economic gap caused by the recession it would take a “combination of spending, taxes, and transfers to state and localities…costing about $1.8 trillion over two years.”
But, as Scheiber notes “these words never made it into the memo the president saw.” Larry Summers, the incoming director of the National Economic Council, thought $1.8 trillion would be a non-starter in the U.S. Senate and he kept it out of the memo of stimulus options to be presented to the president-elect.
Scheiber writes: “‘$1.2 trillion is nonplanetary,’ he told Romer, invoking a Summers-ism for ‘ludicrous.’ ‘People will think we don’t get it.’”
The incoming director of the Office of Management and Budget, Peter Orszag told Scheiber that in retrospect “the figure should have been included in Obama’s memo even though Orszag personally opposed the larger number. ‘I think there’s a basic principle that if a senior member of the economic team wants something presented to the president, it should be presented-with the pros and cons,’ he said. ‘I do not think it’s the role of the economic team to play politics.’
Writes Scheiber: “In the end, the significance of the fateful document has as much to do with what wasn’t in it as what was. Though Obama was never going to propose a $1.8 trillion stimulus, and Congress certainly wasn’t going to pass one, the president may well have felt a greater sense of urgency had he better understood how far he was from the ideal.”
On his website, Scheiber links to a copy of the previously unseen memo.
And that act of transparency may inadvertently offer us a clue as to who leaked it to Scheiber.
If you right-click on the document and look at the “Document Properties,” the author of this three-year-old Word document – meaning the person whose computer was last in possession of it, as a PDF document, before Scheiber obtained it – was the aforementioned Orszag. (Here’s what it looks like.)
And the date this 2008 memo was on Orszag’s computer -September 10, 2011 – well after Orszag left the Obama administration.
Orszag was giving a speech in Madrid, Spain, and could not be reached for comment, and Scheiber declined comment.