Office of Management and Budget

On May 31, standing in front of Solyndra’s vacant headquarters, Mitt Romney lambasted President Obama for granting the company a $528 million loan guarantee.

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Rob Portman has been enjoying his moment of buzz for a couple weeks now. The aggressively unobtrusive Ohio senator—a former congressman and trade representative and budget director in George W.  Bush’s administration—is the insiders’ top bet to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, and today he got his big Washington Post Style profile, a rather Seinfeldesque piece that was basically about the weird nothingness that is the state of being a veep short-lister.

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Last month, I toured Washington D.C.’s Edward C. Mazique Parent Child Center, one of 1,600 low-income preschool providers funded by the federal Head Start program. At lunchtime, well-behaved four- and five-year-olds dutifully served each other apples, cucumbers, and noodle soup. Elsewhere, a more mischievous group rolled on the floor while a teacher patiently tried to read aloud. Everything I saw suggested happy students, clean classrooms, and engaged teachers. Indeed, Mazique has become something of a poster child for Head Start.

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Vice Squad

The GOP primary is not over yet, but, with Mitt Romney firmly in control of the race, it isn’t too soon to begin asking: Who might he select as his running mate? I recently asked about a dozen Republican insiders who they would want to see on a ticket with Romney. (A couple balked at the notion that Romney was a lock for the nomination, but most agreed it was a logical assumption.) The most striking thing that emerged from these conversations was that some Republicans are a lot more excited about the vice presidential choices than about the presidential ones.

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When President Obama took office, most environmental activists assumed that their cause would still meet resistance in Washington DC—they just assumed it would be located in Congress. But according to activists, a chief opponent of environmental causes has turned out to be within the White House itself: The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). A division of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OIRA has always had the power to review the economic impact of virtually any new federal regulation.

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Imagine a federal government program that created one full time job for every $5,000 of taxpayer spending. Under this program, obligations are only made after many months of careful analysis by career officials at the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Energy, in consultation with independent private sector experts. On top of that, the program increases domestic U.S. energy production and vastly reduces the economic damage caused by pollution.

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With the bankruptcy of the California solar-gear manufacturer Solyndra, the Department of Energy’s loan program has been excoriated for wasting tax payer money under suspicious circumstances. The program’s website refers to 63,000 jobs created with $38.6 billion of loans. Some, like those at the Washington Post, see this number and incorrectly conclude that the government has spent $600,000 per job.

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Too Much of a Good Thing

In an 1814 letter to John Taylor, John Adams wrote that “there never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” That may read today like an overstatement, but it is certainly true that our democracy finds itself facing a deep challenge: During my recent stint in the Obama administration as director of the Office of Management and Budget, it was clear to me that the country’s political polarization was growing worse—harming Washington’s ability to do the basic, necessary work of governing.

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With a Republican-controlled House demanding large cuts in present and future spending in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling, the possibility that the federal government will have trouble financing and issuing new debt is becoming more frighteningly likely each day. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, CBO chief Doug Elmendorf, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have all encouraged Congress in strong terms to resolve the debt ceiling stand-off before the creditworthiness of the United States is jeopardized.

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Columnist and former TNR staffer Matthew Miller is as much a numbers-cruncher as a writer, with a resume that includes stints at McKinsey and membership on the Council on Foreign Relations. During the Clinton Administration, he served in the Office of Management and Budget, where, according to his online biography, his work included "leading management studies."  In short, he's a mellow, straight-laced guy.

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