At around 8 a.m. today in a 30th-floor conference room in Thomson Reuters’ 3 Times Square headquarters, White House budget directer Peter Orszag began fielding a host of questions from Reuters’ Chrystia Freeland and others about the U.S.’s uncertain fiscal situation, occasionally expressing frustration with media coverage of the Obama administration’s actions.
Sipping a Diet Coke as members of the media and financial community dined on scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, Orszag said he finds it interesting that people often confuse the TARP bailout of U.S. financial institutions with the stimulus package, for example. Asked about health care reform, he joked that he was also upset about media coverage there, too.
There was some sense of urgency to the proceedings. The title of Reuters’ own reporting on the event, “U.S. must avoid Greece-style crunch: Orszag,” indicates as much.
Still, Orszag was at pains not to offer too many specifics about budgetary actions that might avert a crisis.
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On questions about a time frame for repairing the federal deficit, Orszag said that the issue doesn’t lend itself to specific “yes-or-no” answers. “This is not a technical problem. This is a political economy problem,” he said. In response to multiple questions about potential tax increases and other fiscal maneuvers: “This game of ruling in and ruling out is dancing around the same question.”
Asked whether it would be difficult to get the public to understand spreads between interest rates on 10-year Treasury notes and the London Interbank Offered Rate — a measure of investor confidence in the U.S.’s credit — he said that as the economic situation has changed, “things that seemed esoteric before became, not so much.”
“Synthetic CDOs, for example,” said Freeland.
We’re confident that that concept, and many other technical terms governing the U.S.’s current plight, remain somewhat esoteric.