Fighting for a U.S. federal budget that prioritizes peace, economic security and shared prosperity
Liberal groups are rallying to forestall the possibility that President-elect Joe Biden selects Bruce Reed to head his administration’s Office of Management and Budget, as they fear his relative fiscal conservatism would mean prioritizing deficit reduction over caring for people hurt by the pandemic.
“We think it would be a very serious catastrophe if Bruce Reed is appointed to lead the OMB,” said Max Moran, research assistant at the Revolving Door Project, a group that scrutinizes executive branch appointees and is part of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
The OMB is tasked with assisting the president in meeting policy, budget, management, and regulatory objectives. It will write the budgets that Biden submits to Congress, which will include the policy objectives for his administration. If Reed, 60, from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, heads up the OMB, he will have a major say in the policies advanced by Biden.
The tussle over who runs the OMB is one of the conflicts between centrist and liberal Democrats. During the election, Biden moved to the left to gain the support of skeptical liberals. Naming Reed to head the OMB would be a huge disappointment to them.
Reed, a Princeton graduate, started out as a speechwriter for Tennessee Sen. Al Gore, a Democrat. He then founded DLC magazine before becoming deputy campaign manager for policy for Bill Clinton's presidential bid in 1992.
When Clinton took office, Reed served in the Clinton administration as the president’s chief domestic policy adviser where he oversaw the 1994 crime bill, which Biden was instrumental in getting through Congress. Liberal and minority groups continue to think that the law is bad.
Biden, in the run-up to the 2020 election, has said that he regrets championing that bill.
Reed also served as chief of staff to Vice President Biden from 2011 to 2013.
“I’ve known and admired Bruce for over 20 years,” Biden said. “We worked closely together to pass the crime bill in the 1990s and I’ve frequently sought his advice and counsel in the years since.”
The possibility that Reed could head the OMB was first reported by the American Prospect on Wednesday. The left-leaning publication also deemed him a deficit hawk. Reed in 2000, while he was in the Clinton administration, co-authored a memo that, in part, stated, “Democrats need to show the middle class that we will honor their values, defend their country, and think twice before spending the tax dollars they worked so hard to earn.”
Moran cautioned that his appointment to the OMB could lead to austerity measures being included in Biden’s budgets.
“It would be a horrible decision on the economic merits for the United States to pivot to austerity in the middle of an economic recession that is comparable to the Great Depression,” he said.
Reed's reputation for fiscal restraint is at least partly why he ran President Barack Obama’s task force to reduce the deficit. The effort was co-chaired by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, from Wyoming, and Democrat Erskine Bowles, a White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration. The group was called the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The primary objective for the task force was to provide Congress with a deficit reduction plan, but it failed to reach a consensus on one.
One issue the group examined was reforming Social Security by raising the retirement age, increasing contributions, and cutting benefits to wealthier individuals, which Democrats opposed.
Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, an organization that seeks to expand entitlements like Social Security, views Reed’s willingness to tinker with Social Security as a nonstarter in heading the OMB.
“Joe Biden ran for President on a promise to protect and expand Social Security. Seniors listened and delivered his margin of victory in key states like Arizona and Michigan. Appointing Bruce Reed to head the Office of Management and Budget would betray that promise,” he said.
Lindsay Koshgarian thinks appointing Reed to the OMB could be a bad move.
She is program director at the National Priorities Project, a federal budget research organization, and thinks that now is the wrong time to install a deficit hawk at the White House as coronavirus infections surge across the country.
“This is a circumstance when deficit spending is absolutely the appropriate and responsible answer,” she said via email, adding that “focusing on the deficit at all costs is incredibly short-sighted. We are facing three major crises: a pandemic, an existential crisis in climate change, and a racial justice crisis. If we don't spend now to get those under control, we will face higher costs in the long run.”