Alexander Pushes OMB Director Orszag on President’s $3.8 Trillion Budget

Urges Administration: “Start the [budget] freeze right away, stop using TARP as a piggy bank,” end stimulus, strengthen Medicare

Posted on February 2, 2010

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today questioned Peter Orszag, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), on several issues regarding the president’s proposed $3.8 trillion budget for Fiscal Year 2011 during a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee, of which he is a member.

On the escalating debt:

  • “There’s a lot of talk about inheritance, and members of the administration say rightly that they inherited a debt, inherited a recession.  That’s exactly right, but the question is what you do with your inheritance.  It seems like that what you’re saying here is that the boat is sinking and your solution is to put some more holes in it with big increases in spending.”

On Pell Grants:

  • “I have a specific one to ask you about, which is what you propose to do with Pell Grants.  I’m a former university president and was education secretary.  I’m a big backer of Pell Grants, but in your budget, we would increase funding for these college scholarships by over $14 billion in 2011.  We would then spend $118 billion over ten years to fund the existing maximum grant award and then we would spend $69 billion over ten years to make it an entitlement and increase it according to the cost of living, plus one percent.  Then we’d take all of that current money plus these proposed changes, which is about a half trillion dollars over ten years, and make it mandatory spending.  Now I was invited to a [fiscal responsibility] summit with the president at the White House last year, which I appreciated very much, where all of the concern was about entitlement spending.  I just don’t see how you can justify adding a half-trillion new dollars over ten years in Pell Grant spending from the discretionary side to the mandatory, automatic-pilot side.

On moving step by step to reduce the debt and regain the trust of the American people:

  • “We’ve had a difficult time here in the Senate with comprehensive bills.  Comprehensive health care has been very hard; comprehensive, economy-wide cap and trade has been very hard; comprehensive immigration, even though we had senators working from both parties, was very hard.  We may do better by going step by step in the right direction.  Here are four pretty good steps: start the freeze right away, stop using TARP as a piggy bank, don’t spend the stimulus money after 2010, find some money in Medicare to use to strengthen Medicare.  I can think of others and you probably can, too.  I think you would find bipartisan support for steps in that direction and I hope that’ll be taken seriously.”

On creating a bipartisan fiscal commission to reduce government spending:

  • “You might want to consider a suggestion about bringing [the Conrad-Gregg proposal] up again, amending it, and finding out what the problems are.  It had 16 Republican votes.  If the president with 59 or 60 votes can’t pass something that’s important to him, it’s going to be a long four years.  So that’s a good start and maybe there are some adjustments that could be made in the statutory commission.  My own view is that working on this commission will be much more likely to get a vote than an executive order, no matter how well-intended that might be.”