Budget Background

STUNNINGLY INEXPERIENCED NOMINEE UP FOR KEYBUDGET POST; DEMONSTRATED TROUBLING LACK OF CANDOR AND KNOWLEDGE IN TESTIMONY

A critical position at a critical agency at a critical time:

This afternoon, the Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to vote on the controversial nomination of Heather Higginbottom to be President Obama’s deputy budget director at the Office of Management and Budget.

Ms. Higginbottom would assume this key post at a time when our nation faces a historic financial threat. The co-chairs of the President’s own fiscal commission recently warned that if the United States fails to take significant action on debt reduction, the country would face “the most predictable economic crisis in its history.” They speculated such an event could occur in as soon as one or two years. But Ms. Higginbottom, a former campaign advisor to President Obama, has no formal budget training or experience. Her predecessors average 6.5 years of such experience, often many more. Objectively, she is the least qualified nominee for this post in decades.

Nominee Defends False Budget Claims:

During her confirmation hearing, the nominee was asked about false assertions from the White House regarding the president's budget. (Both President Obama and his budget director have repeatedly said that the president's budget allows us to “live within our means,” “spend money that we have each year,” and “begin paying down our debt,” but numerous fact-check organizations have found these statements to be false. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said that we will not see a yearly deficit less than $748 billion at any point during the president’s 10-year budget.)

Ms. Higginbottom struggled mightily to defend the legitimacy of making these statements and would not concede, when asked, that they would obviously mislead any public audience hearing them.

Now more than ever, we need honest, fact-based budgeting—not fantasy budgeting. These misrepresentations undermine efforts to confront our growing fiscal crisis, and we need leaders at OMB who will aggressively enforce sound accounting and reject the spin and gimmicks that have done so much damage to the financial integrity of this country.

We also need a candidate who has the requisite experience and determination to hold even top Cabinet officials to tight spending levels. The post for which Ms. Higginbottom has been nominated is chiefly responsible for “overseeing the preparation of the Federal Budget and supervising its administration of Executive Branch agencies.” That means imposing discipline on agencies, being a champion of honest budgeting, and serving within the administration as the voice and advocate of a responsible fiscal policy. It means rigorously cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse.

But Ms. Higginbottom’s verbal and written testimony simply underscore that she lacks the background, independence, and strength of commitment necessary to effectively serve in this post. She tried to justify the administration’s irresponsible presentation of its budget and seemingly failed to grasp the gravity of our country’s crushing debt. Indeed, in her testimony, she has revealed that she sees the budget as a policy document, not a control on the natural tendency of government to expand.

Ms. Higginbottom has addressed her lack of budget experience by citing her budget experience as Senator John Kerry’s Legislative Director, but during her tenure Senator Kerry never even served on the Budget Committee.

The Bottom Line:

Now is not the time to take a risk with the Office of Management and Budget. We need tested leadership that knows how to courageously and efficiently manage the finances of this nation, and how to say “no” to officials demanding more money for their departments.

TESTIMONY HIGHLIGHTS:

MS. HIGGINBOTTOM’S TESTIMONY BEFORE THE SENATE BUDGET COMMITTEE DISPLAYED A TROUBLING LACK OF BUDGETARY KNOWLEDGE, CANDOR, AND CLARITY:

Senator Sessions opened with a straightforward question:

“Ms. Higginbottom, let me first ask you, you would agree that OMB must be honest with the American people and honest with Congress when it produces its reports and its analysis and its statements that it makes publicly, would you not?”

Higginbottom answered, in one of her only clear statements: “Yes, I would.”

Senator Sessions then presented a chart showing how the debt grows every year under the president’s budget, and ultimately doubles the national debt in 10 years. He read a quote from the president stating, “We will not be adding more to the debt.” He asked the nominee, “Fairly heard by the American people, it that a true statement or not?” Higginbottom failed to reject the false budget claims, and failed to state the obvious, offering meekly, “I cannot express how the American people would hear that.”

Worse still, despite the significant attention the Administration’s claims had received, his deputy budget director nominee asserted at her hearing, for which presumably she had prepared: “I am not sure exactly what they [the president and his budget director] did say,” adding, “I’m not familiar with that statement.” (Sessions had announced prior to the hearing that this topic would be a focus).

Sessions then asked her to look at the chart of growing debt and ask, “[The debt] goes up and it doubles in ten years, does it not? Higginbottom responded by saying that the budget was a “milestone” and, later in questioning, a “first step,” without addressing the substance of the Senator’s question.

Pointing out that the president’s claims rely on the exclusion of interest payments from the deficit calculation, Sessions explained that interest “is about the first thing you have to pay on your business debt in responsibility of payments.” Then he asked if excluding interest (which rises to $844 billion annually under the President’s own projections) was “a legitimate way to discuss with the American people the debt crisis we now face?” Higginbottom responded with a vague bromide about “a responsible fiscal path,” again without addressing the substance of the question.

Ms. Higginbottom then attempted to defend the White House claims that their budget allows us to “live within our means” by arguing that it stabilizes the annual deficit. So the Senator then asked her whether the deficits decrease or increase in the final three years of the budget. Ms. Higginbottom said she did not know (“I don’t have the table in front of me”). In reality, with the president’s plan—under the White House’s own projections—deficits climb steadily in the final three years, nearing $800 billion dollars. And, under CBO projections, they climb all the way to $1.2 trillion.

MS. HIGGINBOTTOM’S TESTIMONY BEFORE THE HOMELAND SECURITY AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE UNDERSCORED HER STUNNING LACK OF EXPERIENCE:

Senator Brown of Massachusetts asked,“What type of accounting and budgetary experience [do] you have?”

Her response was telling, after discussing how she would work with others on her primary task of managing the budget, she said, “taking a leadership role in the policy process.” After some further opining about her management and policy experience Senator Brown interrupted to restate his question.

Brown: You’ll be the number two. I mean, if he’s [Director Lew] not there, you’ll be number one, potentially. And in that respect, I would presume you would be dealing with accounting and budgeting, obviously, problems within OMB. Is that a fair statement?

Higginbottom: Sure, uh-huh.

Brown: So I guess my original question is, what type of budgeting and accounting experience do you have?

Higginbottom: I have done a lot of policymaking….

Brown: All right, I understand that. But I guess I’m asking, do you have any accounting or budgetary experience aside from dealing in policy matters?

Higginbottom: I’m not an accountant. But the president’s budget is an articulation of his policy agenda.

Note: To view video of Ms. Higginbottom’s Budget Committee testimony, please click here.