Peter Orszag's Complicated Legacy

Assessments of the departing budget director's tenure

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Friday is the last day at the White House for Budget Director Peter Orszag, the admired, criticized,  and strangely sensationalized economist who helped cut deals on the stimulus and health care. Here's what people are saying about Orszag's whirlwind two years in the Obama Cabinet.

  • Effective but Polarizing Politico's Ben Smith writes that while Orszag might be the first cabinet member to depart, "he left as deep a mark as almost anyone in it." His time wasn't always smooth, though. "Orszag made enemies in the House leadership for his emphasis on controlling costs," writes Smith, "and his independent profile at times rankled the white House as much as any disagreements over budgets."

  • Indelible Impact Orszag's crowning achievement was his role in shaping last spring's health care bill, writes the New Republic's Jonathan Cohn.

"Within the White House and in negotiations with Congress, he was a frequent voice for spending restraint and a champion of cost control in health care reform. It's entirely possible that, without Orszag, the final reform bill might not have included (a) an independent commission to calibrate Medicare payments and (b) a tax on benefits that should discourage expensive health insurance plans. Thanks to legislative compromises, the commission is relatively weak and the tax doesn't phase in for a few years. But both measures should have some impact and, more important, they create levers that future lawmakers can use to reduce health care spending more dramatically."

  • Tabloid Fodder Press reports on Orszag's messy personal life (specifically his split from his pregnant girlfriend and subsequent engagement to an ABC reporter) were ubiquitous during his time at the White House, a fact the National Review's Mona Charen believes severely undermined his credibility. Orszag, writes Charen, seemed to relish exactly the kind of media attention that was "unthinkable for a respectable man" in Washington.

  • Natural Tensions Matt Bai of the New York Time argues the bulk of Orszag's clashes with House leaders pivoted on the question of "whether government as it has always been structured can still be expected to work." The tensions between Orszag and congress were high, writes Bai, but not unprecedented. In many ways, Orszag's relationship with Congress was unremarkable, "part of the friction that always exists between a budget director, who seeks to impose the president’s priorities, and Congress, which tends to have a few of its own."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.