Obama Budget Nominee Admits Current Budgets Higher than Bush Debt

By Fred Lucas | March 23, 2011 | 3:15 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) – Though President Barack Obama repeatedly has said he inherited a fiscal mess from his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama’s nominee to serve as deputy budget director conceded to a Senate panel last week that none of Bush’s budgets had as high a debt as Obama’s do.

During the Senate confirmation hearing on March 17, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, grilled Heather Higginbottom – who was nominated last January to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget – about the Obama administration’s claims that the president’s 10-year budget proposal does not add to the national debt.

“In years 8, 9 and 10 it [Obama’s budget proposal] goes up every year and reaches approximately $900 billion from $600 billion, as a low point in the entire 10 years,” Sessions said. “The highest debt Bush ever had was $450 billion. You don’t have a single year when the budget falls below $600 billion do you?

Higginbottom did not dispute Sessions' assessment.

“That’s correct, and Senator, both the president and the director have talked repeatedly about these being the first steps we need to take, and we need to come together in a bipartisan fashion as the chairman and some of his other colleagues are doing to look at these long-term issues. So this isn’t the end of the road,” Higginbottom said. “The president’s budget is the first step in the budget process.”

If confirmed, Higginbottom would serve under OMB Director Jack Lew.

But Republicans on the committee question her qualifications for the job.

A news release from the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee, said Wednesday that previous OMB deputy directors came to the job with an average of 6.5 years of direct budget experience. However, Higginbottom has none.

In a pre-hearing questionnaire, she conceded that she has no formal training or direct experience in budgeting or finance, according to Republican budget committee staff.

Lew praised Higginbottom’s qualifications in a Jan. 7 statement after Obama nominated her, citing her other administration and political positions.

“Many of us at OMB know Heather from her work as Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council In that position, she has played an integral role on issues ranging from education to poverty to food safety,” Lew said.

“Before she joined the administration, Heather was the policy director for Obama for America. She came to that job after eight years working in the US Senate for Sen. John Kerry, culminating in serving as his legislative director. Heather also founded and served as executive director of the American Security Project, a national security think tank,” Lew added.

CNSNews.com reported in February that Obama was not telling the truth when he said, “On the budget, what my budget does is to put forward some tough choices, some significant spending cuts, so that by the middle of this decade our annual spending will match our annual revenues.”

He added, “We will not be adding more to the national debt. So, to use a sort of an analogy that families are familiar with, we’re not going to be running up the credit card anymore.”

However, Obama’s own OMB in the proposed 2012 budget increases the debt every year for the next decade and does not spend less than it takes in any of the next 10 years, according to the OMB. (See page 171, Table S-1 and page 203, Table S-14.)

During the hearing, Sessions grilled Higginbottom about statements from Obama and Lew that the president’s fiscal year 2012 budget plan, that projects out 10 years.

“This happens to be President Obama’s statement: We will not be adding more to the debt,” Sessions said. “He is referring to this budget, the one that he has submitted to us and stated to the American people, and Mr. Lew has stated to the American people that we will not be adding more to the debt. Is that a correct statement or not?”

Higginbottom began to answer, “What both the director and the president are referring to is--”

Sessions said, “No, I asked you, heard by the American people, is that a true statement or not?”

Higginbottom did not know what the American people would interpret.

“I can’t express how the American people would hear that,” she told Sessions. “What I can say is of course the interest payments on the debt will add to the debt.”

Later in the hearing, Higginbottom said, “I’d like to explain what they are referring to. Both the president and the director are referring to an effort to pay for the programs the government’s operating costs as they’re proposed. That’s a concept of primary balance which I know you and the director have discussed. That notion doesn’t speak to the interest payments. When the president came to office it was a $1.3 trillion deficit. We have to borrow money to pay on that deficit.”

Sessions responded, “Did Mr. Lew or the president of the United States, when they made that statement, we will not be adding to the debt, did they say, by the way American people, what we really meant is some arcane idea about not counting interest payments that the United States must make as part of our debt? Did they say that?”

Higginbottom answered, “I’m not sure exactly what they did say.”