New Obama chief of staff strangely ignorant of budget process on Capitol Hill

When a President appoints someone to run the Office of Management and Budget and then Chief of Staff [see update below], one might believe that a few prerequisites come with the job.  Certainly something more than a basic understanding of math would be in order, although considering Barack Obama’s four straight trillion-dollar-plus budget deficits, that may be more of a guideline than a requirement.  Having enough knowledge of civics to understand how a budget gets passed on Capitol Hill would usually be considered a baseline expectation for an OMB director and chief of staff, but apparently in the Land of Hopenchange, such frivolities are overlooked in favor of, er … a really nice crease in one’s slacks, or something.


Here’s Jack Lew on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley yesterday, trying to defend Harry Reid’s contention that budgets are unnecessary by claiming he’d need to get 60 votes to pass one:

CROWLEY:  I know we’ll want to talk about the tax hikes in a second, but I want to read for our viewers something that Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader in the U.S. Senate, who said, we do not need to bring a budget to the floor this year.  It’s done.  We don’t need to do it, talking about last year’s two-year agreement and saying that, you know, so it’s already done.

This budget, I can assure you and you know, because you’ve been in this town for a long time, is going to be attacked as a political document.  This is a budget that promises 2 million more jobs if it’s passed, so that come September the president can go out there and say, well, if they’d only passed by budget, we’d have 2 million more jobs, but those darn Republicans are standing in my way, when, in fact, even the Democratic leader in the Senate says, you know what, we don’t need a budget.

LEW:  Well, let’s be clear.  What Senator Reid is talking about is a fairly narrow point.  In order for the Senate to do its annual work on appropriation bills, they need to pass a certain piece of legislation which sets a limit.  They did that last year.  That’s what he’s talking about.

He’s not saying that they shouldn’t pass a budget.  But we also need to be honest.  You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes, and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support.


As we all learned two years ago, that’s absolutely untrue.  Budgets are not subject to cloture, and haven’t been for more than four decades.  When did we learn this?  When Democrats used the budget process of reconciliation to shove ObamaCare through the Senate — led by Harry Reid himself.  Reid still has 53 votes in his caucus, and could pass a budget at any time with that majority, if he had a budget that could pass muster with them.

ABC’s Jake Tapper reported on Lew’s apparent ignorance yesterday:

“You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support,” Lew said. “So unless… unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, [Majority Leader] Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed.”

That’s not accurate. Budgets only require 51 Senate votes for passage, as Lew — former director of the Office of Management and Budget — surely must know.

White House officials did not dispute that Lew misspoke. When asked about the discrepancy, a White House official said “the chief of staff was clearly referencing the general gridlock in Congress that makes accomplishing even the most basic tasks nearly impossible given the Senate Republicans’ insistence on blocking an up or down vote on nearly every issue.”


But did Lew truly misspeak?  Glenn Kessler reported yesterday that Lew made the same “mistake” on NBC’s Meet the Press, and calls Lew’s statement “misleading” rather than erroneous.  In fact, it’s so misleading as to get four Pinocchios:

We might be tempted to think Lew misspoke, except that he said virtually the same thing, on two different shows, when he was specifically asked about the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget resolution. He even prefaced his comment on CNN by citing the “need to be honest.”

He could have tried to argue, as some Democrats do, that the debt-ceiling deal last year in effect was a budget resolution. Or he could have spoken more broadly about gridlock in the Senate, after acknowledging a traditional budget resolution had not been passed. Instead, the former budget director twice choose to use highly misleading language that blamed Republicans for the failure of the Democratic leadership.

We wavered between three and four Pinocchios, in part because the budget resolution is only a blueprint, not a law, but ultimately decided a two-time budget director really should know better.

It seems that Lew met the most important prerequisite of any Obama appointee.  He’s willing to lie to blame Republicans for the failures of Democrats and Barack Obama.


Update: Jack Lew was the OMB director, but he’s now Obama’s chief of staff.  I’ve fixed the headline.  Thanks to Dustin Siggins for giving me the heads-up.

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