This Associated Press story is creating a lot of unnecessary buzz in Washington. In fact, the coverage may well be a total overreaction to a complete nonstory.
As reported by the AP, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orzag has told federal agencies and departments to prepare two possible fiscal 2011 budgets: one that holds spending flat and another that cuts spending by 5 percent. That led the AP to say that the White House is planning a “budget freeze.”
Here’s the back story the AP didn’t include.
1. Almost all administrations ask agencies and departments to put together multiple budgets based on alternative scenarios like a 5 percent increase, a 5 percent decrease, and no growth. So the fact that the Obama White House has asked for multiple options not only is no big deal and definitely not news.
2. The AP makes it sounds as if deficit reduction became a big part of the administration’s plan only after the 2010 elections and is doing so in response to the results. In fact, the White House indicated back when its first budget was released earlier this year that it would begin to deal with the deficit when the economy had recovered and that it expected to submit a deficit reduction plan as part of its 2011 budget. In other words…this is anything but news.
3. It would have been news if Orzag’s guidance to the agencies was to come up with a budget that increased spending because that would have been a change from what it said previously. This was nothing more than a reaffirmation of what had been promised earlier. The article should have said that.
It does look as if Orzag’s interview with the AP is the start of an Obama administration effort to reclaim the budget issue and reestablish its credentials. In addition to talking with the AP, Orzag did this interview on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” this past Wednesday.
And…As reported by Jackie Calmes in the New York Times, Orzag said pretty much the same thing 10 days ago when he spoke to an audience at New York University.