There’s a nice bit of reporting on all this from The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber, who points to something he wrote back in December about the rivalry between Orszag and Larry Summers, of the National Economic Council:
Last month, Orszag raised eyebrows when word leaked that he’d asked most cabinet agencies to prepare two budgets: one that freezes spending, the other that cuts it by 5 percent. Many congressional liberals were livid, and, according to multiple sources, Larry Summers’s National Economic Council reacted negatively to the emphasis on the deficit. (“The economic team has a healthy debate about most major issues,” says an administration official. “Getting people back to work is central to addressing the deficit. Similarly, putting the country back on a fiscally sustainable path is vital to confidence in the economy.”)
That’s more like it.
This week, Scheiber ends up concluding that, “while the debate over how to weight additional stimulus versus deficit reduction continues within the administration, these policy differences aren’t the reason Orszag is leaving.”
As I understand it, the reason Orszag has decided to step aside now is that the upside to sticking around just wasn’t that great after he’d successfully overseen two budget cycles and helped manage a once-in-a-generation healthcare reform effort. (To say nothing of that stimulus bill…) What you have to understand about Orszag is that he’s an extremely bright guy who’s excited by intellectual, as opposed to, say, managerial, challenges. What you have to understand about being OMB director is that it’s an incredibly taxing job—there’s a huge amount of work that has to get done in a short period of time, year in and year out. Put that together and what you had was a grueling job that Orszag found pretty exhilarating when the learning curve was steep, and which became a little less exhilarating but no less grueling once the learning curve flattened out. Between that dynamic and his impending wedding in September, which roughly coincides with the start of the new budget season, it makes perfect sense for him to hang his slide rule elsewhere.
So there is a debate at the White House. But it isn’t why he’s leaving. Fair enough.
All in all, I’d say readers need a bit more information to gauge what’s going on with this important job at this very important time.