OMB head faults Dems’ budgets over pay-go, entitlements, taxes

Rob Portman is considered one of the Bush administration’s most effective advocates with Congress, as the budget director is remembered for brokering compromises while a conciliatory House member from Ohio.

Portman also can be a defender and proponent of the administration, and a recent interview was highlighted by a defense of Bush’s threatened veto of the Iraq supplemental and predictions that more vetoes could be on the way if Democrats fail to reduce spending.

ADVERTISEMENT
Q: The House budget doesn’t foresee extending the tax breaks from 2001. Do you think this is an honest budget, since some of the tax breaks are unlikely to be eliminated?

A: Three things trouble me the most about the House budget. The first is on the spending side, they choose to take the breaks off the domestic spending, so-called domestic discretionary non-security spending. Second is, they don’t touch entitlements, and the unsustainable growth in entitlement spending is our most difficult budget challenge. Everyone seems to acknowledge that now ... and they took a total pass. And then third is, I’m disappointed that the budget pays for all that new spending with taxes, which I think will put at risk the very economic growth that has given us the increased revenues over the last few years to be able to reduce the deficit.

Q: Do you think Democrats are making a political mistake in not extending the tax cuts in the budget?
A: I don’t know if it’s a political mistake or not; I do know it’s an economic mistake. Let the politics fall where they might. I do think there is a risk that politically, that people will think that when the Democrats ran for office insisting on pay-as-you-go [budget rules], that they meant it. And yet these billions of dollars of new domestic spending are not subject to pay-go.

Q: Do you see the additional spending provisions in the Iraq supplemental as a sign of things to come?
A: I do. I think it’s probably an indication of what will be happening in the 2008 appropriations bills, because a lot of these add-ons have nothing to do with the war, nothing to do with security and clearly are not emergencies. So they are in some cases a way to pre-fund the 2008 appropriations process, and to make it easier for the House and Senate to meet whatever their spending cap might be by spending now rather than later.

Q: The president has only used the veto power once. Do you think there’s a likelihood that some of these appropriations measures could be vetoed?
A: It’s certainly possible. I think it’s a place where we will certainly exercise veto threats, and whether the president has to veto bills or not will depend on how the Congress reacts. If they keep to a reasonable top-line number and fund defense adequately, then I think we can work through without vetoes. But if they choose to take on the fight on spending, then it seems likely the veto would be exercised.

Q: How much of a political risk do you think it is for the president to veto the supplemental? Is there a danger that he’d be seen as delaying funding to the troops?

A: No, because he’s been clear that he wants a clean bill for the troops. ... What they’ve done in addition is they’ve added on restrictions that tie the hands of the various commanders that are meant to allocate these resources, and they’ve added on a bunch of unrelated domestic spending, and I think the American people see that for what it is.

Q: You’ve criticized the House and Senate for failing to propose entitlement reductions in their budget bills. What do you think this means for entitlement reform? Is this something that will have to wait until after the 2008 elections?
A: I hope not. I was discouraged and surprised when the Senate budget came out with no changes at all in the entitlement programs, which everyone acknowledges are growing at unsustainable rates. I did note that at least the chairman of the committee, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), still believes it’s an issue that ought to be addressed in a bipartisan fashion. I agree with him on that — I just think that we make a big mistake not making it part of the budget. ... If the Senate and House leadership believes our proposals weren’t the right idea, what is their idea?

Q: Do you see your career in politics coming to a close at the end of the current administration, or do you think a political job closer to home in Ohio might be something you want to consider? There’s a Democratic governor of Ohio now.
A: And a Democratic senator. For a decade or so, it wasn’t true. There are more opportunities in Ohio now. I still have an interest and always will in public service, but who knows what the future will bring. I really don’t know, and I don’t think it’s possible to plan. One of my immediate goals is to spend more time with my family.