President Obama’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) tried, but failed to defend the proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 in a Senate Budget Committee hearing Thursday afternoon.
Obama’s nominee, Heather Higginbottom, crumbled under questioning from Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking member of the committee, about the accuracy of statements the president and OMB Director Jacob Lew have made that the proposed budget will not add to the national debt.
The more than six-minute long questioning consisted of numerous exchanges that saw Higginbottom trying to dodge direct questions regarding the impact the president’s budget would have on the national debt:
Sessions: 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 mean is some arcane idea about not counting interest payments the United States must make as part of our debt?” Did they say that?
Higginbottom: I’m not sure exactly what they did say.
Sessions: Well if they didn’t say that, would that be an accurate statement?
Higginbottom: The interest costs on what we’re borrowing add to the debt…
A few minutes later:
Sessions: You’re saying that what the president really meant but that he didn’t say, is that one year or so, that you calculate, if you don’t count the interest… then we can tell the American people we’re not adding to our debt?
Do you think that’s a legitimate way to discuss with the American people the debt crisis we now face?
Higginbottom: …It puts us on a path to stabilize the debt as a percentage of our economy, which is a very important first step in eventually being able to able to pay it down, which is the large task in front of us.
Sessions goes on to ask Higginbottom if she knows the last three years of the president’s ten-year budget proposal all have rising deficits. Higginbottom – the president’s nominee for the second highest position at the OMB — replied with, “I don’t have the deficit table in front of me.”
Sessions’ questioning ends with him pointing out that the president’s proposed budget for FY2012 does not have one year where the deficit falls below $600 billion.
“That is correct,” Higginbottom confirms.