Orszag crunched on healthcare reform

A review of Peter Orszag's daily schedules shows his sustained focus on healthcare reform as soon as he joined President Obama’s Cabinet.

The daily schedules for Orszag, who left his position as Office of Management and Budget director in August, reveal he and key White House aides regularly met to discuss healthcare starting in January 2009, within days of Obama entering office. Orszag also took meetings with insurance executives and health experts as the White House made health reform its top legislative priority after enacting the $814 billion stimulus.

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The Hill obtained Orszag’s schedules from Obama’s inauguration up to August 2009 through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Orszag took part in a slew of meetings with then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on healthcare in the week after Obama took his oath of office. As the administration made health reform its top legislative priority by the spring of 2009, Orszag began to hold regular meetings with Nancy Ann-DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform.

He also held separate meetings with executives of UnitedHealth Group, Kaiser Permanente, Aetna and Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Other health experts whom Orszag took meetings with included Denis Cortese, president of the Mayo Clinic, Christy Mack of the Bravewell Collaboration for alternative medicine and Judy Salerno of the Institute of Medicine.

Orszag was brought into the administration due in large part to his past work on health reform. As director of the Congressional Budget Office in 2007 and 2008, he increased the number of health analysts so the nonpartisan agency was better equipped to predict the impact of health reform legislation, and he led an effort to publish a 218-page volume on federal health spending.

During the healthcare debate, Orszag was a vocal proponent of reforms that would keep federal costs down. The projected rise in federal health costs is the main driver of unsustainable deficits over the next few decades, according to the CBO and other independent forecasters. The major provision in the Democrats’ health act that Orszag championed is the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a group of health experts whose recommended cuts to wasteful Medicare procedures will become law unless Congress rejects them.

Orszag’s health focus came on top of the traditional duties of an OMB director, who crafts the administration’s fiscal policies and serves as a presidential economic adviser. His schedules show he was in constant touch with the president, attending daily economic briefings in the Oval Office with National Economic Council Chairman Lawrence Summers.

The lawmakers he met most often with were Democratic leaders on economic issues — Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and House Budget Chairman John Spratt (S.C.). He made a point to attend meetings in the Capitol with groups of centrists, namely the Blue Dog Democrats in the House and a bipartisan Senate group led by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

Orszag met with about a third of the Senate in individual meetings during the first half of 2009, but met with only about a dozen of the 435 House members individually by that point. He had far fewer meetings with Republicans than with Democrats; the only House GOP member he had a scheduled meeting with in the first half of 2009 was GOP budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), with whom he lunched with in April 2009.

The schedules show Orszag more often took meetings with Republicans who are out of office. Appearing twice on his schedules were Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and Peter G. Peterson, the founder of the investment firm Blackstone Group and a proponent of deficit cuts. Orszag also met with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who has been both a Democrat and a Republican.