The OMB Tackles Spending Challenges

Newly-confirmed Office of Management & Budget Director Jim Nussle, a former Delaware Congressman, said he has gone through “OMB boot camp” since his September 4 step into office. With an over $1 trillion fiscal year budget for 2008 that projects yearly decreases in the deficit (but little hint of conservative-pleasing spending cuts) Nussle has a big task ahead.

Nussle met with bloggers and reporters in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Friday to discuss upcoming spending issues and tout news that the national deficit has dropped to its lowest level in five years. Despite the good report, congressmen and senators continue to inject earmarks into spending bills. A bi-partisan effort has been waged to eliminate wasteful pork barrel spending but Nussle said “accountability is an ongoing problem…[and] the President  is very specific in his efforts to demand and encourage accountability and transparency.”

Nussle stressed Bush’s attempts to “hold the line on spending” and noted the “wasteful spending” of earmarks has brought frustration to many. He said the OMB is “calling on Congress to reduce the amount” of wasteful spending and move towards transparency because “sunshine is the best antiseptic to decreasing the deficit.” Several organizations have emerged recently to supplement this idea.

Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots organization dedicated to cutting taxes and restoring fiscal responsibility, surfaced three years ago in response to the extravagant spending practices of government which the Bush administration has been too comfortable with. Together with groups like Porkbusters and The Sunlight Foundation, AFP has brought the issue of earmarks to national attention.

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama sponsored a bill last year to create an internet database of federal spending that has helped return responsibility as well. Nussle said they are “on track…to have the website up and running” in the near future.

Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake has been a key leader in the movement against pork barrel spending and in a recent conference call said the response of fellow congressmen has not always been positive. Flake participated in last year’s Earmark Express bandwagon, sponsored by AFP, that traveled the country to highlight the nation’s most frivolous earmarks. Because of these efforts, Nussle said, “the audience has narrowed considerably” for how easily one can waste federal dollars.

He said the president continues to “look across the board” and take on the “challenges that exist in a bipartisan way.” The Democrats pledged to be the most ethical Congress in history when they took over in 2006 but have failed to attain the majority of their promised objectives, including those related to fiscal responsibility. Though wasteful spending is a Republican problem too, Democrats retain the most power and Nussle said he believes there will be “continuing efforts to water down transparency” in spending.

In his address to the nation regarding the budget earlier this year, President Bush proposed “common sense reforms” and said in order “to keep this economy strong we must take on the challenge of entitlements.” Those include the healthcare system, which has been a hot topic as of last week’s SCHIP veto. Bush said programs like Medicare and Medicaid must be “commitments of conscience.” He has been criticized for the veto but Nussle said Democrats are using the opportunity as a “good political issue for them to keep beating us up over children.”

Anti-war Democrats also blame war funding for America’s financial problems but Nussle said such blame is a “political game” being used as a polling tactic.

“People are asked to do a job….and to have uncertainty whether they’ll be backed financially once they’re over there…they gotta get their resources,” he said.

Nussle mentioned the necessity of using extra funds for national defense and security “in order to protect the country in ways that before ’01 weren’t considered…”

He briefly spoke on the financial future of Social Security, a program facing financial disaster if not reformed and re-funded in the next few years.  Nussle said he “hopes it doesn’t take a catastrophe to wake people up” and that “every moment that passes the hill gets steeper to climb…options become harder to adopt” with that issue.