WASHINGTON — At 6 in the morning, Peter R. Orszag is racing: across wet pavement for a 35-minute run, into a shower and a suit, and through a living room that looks rather like an office, the walls painted presidential gold and hung with pictures of federal monuments.
As he heads to his job as White House budget director, he already seems to pulse with energy, but he asks his driver to stop at Starbucks for enormous doses of iced and hot tea. His epic caffeine intake concerned him until he solved the problem with typical Orszagian efficiency: he underwent genetic testing, confirmed that he could safely metabolize large amounts and happily moved on to the next worry.
Mr. Orszag is the youngest member of President Obama’s team holding cabinet rank, a 40-year-old with what colleagues call a graybeard’s knowledge of how the government spends money. But he has little interest in merely keeping fiscal house.
His animating passions are far grander — health care, energy policy and Social Security overhaul, for starters. Everything about the way he has interpreted his new job speaks of ambition: the policy heavyweights he has hired for the Office of Management and Budget, his efforts to persuade cabinet secretaries to let him help shape their plans, a public profile as high as that of any budget director since David A. Stockman’s polarizing tenure under Ronald Reagan a quarter-century ago.
“When people are saying this is not how O.M.B. has done things before, I’ve been shrugging my shoulders and saying this is not your father’s O.M.B.,” he said in a recent interview in his office, where a direct phone line to the president was just installed. (He has not yet dared press the little blue button.)
But though colleagues call Mr. Orszag something of a presidential favorite, his relative power among the gigantic personalities on the Obama economic team is still uncertain. Although the budget touches everything, he has no particular subject-area portfolio, and on the topics that most draw his interest, the administration is already well stocked, maybe even overstocked, with expertise and opinions.
A former director of the Congressional Budget Office, Mr. Orszag is what passes in the Democratic Party for a deficit hawk. But with the economy requiring a jolt from deficit spending, and with his boss determined to press ahead with expensive domestic initiatives while he has the weight to do so, Mr. Orszag embodies the administration’s awkward fiscal policy positioning: big spending now, with a promise to scrub the budget of waste and a bet that economic recovery and changes to health care will gradually reduce the deficit.
Mr. Orszag’s main job for now is to protect his budget’s journey through Congress, drawing on his years of experience on Capitol Hill, his warm relationships there and his ability to reach deep into detail to make a bargain.( Collapse )source