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Obama Names Pick For OMB

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Yesterday, we heard from President-elect Barack Obama about the need for billions of dollars in spending to jumpstart the economy. Today, Mr. Obama spoke more about the need to cut spending in some areas, and he named two members to his economic team to help him do that. Peter Orzag will head the White House Office of Management and Budget. He will be assisted by Robert Nabors. NPR's Scott Horsley has our story.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President-elect Barack Obama says his new advisers will review the federal budget page by page and line by line, looking for places the government can economize. He says that's critical at a time when the government is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to shore up the financial system, and he's calling for more spending to jolt the economy back on track.

BARACK OBAMA: If we are going to make the investments we need, we also have to be willing to shed the spending that we don't need. In these challenging times, when we're facing both rising deficits and a shrinking economy, budget reform is not an option.

HORSLEY: The man tapped to lead that effort as head of the White House Office of Management and Budget is Peter Orzag, a former adviser to President Clinton who follows country music and the wisdom of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Orzag's current job is head of the Congressional Budget Office. Mr. Obama says that's given him an up-close view of government programs that can use a little weeding.

OBAMA: Peter doesn't need a map to tell him where the bodies are buried in the federal budget. He knows what works and what doesn't, what's worthy of our precious tax dollars and what is not. Just because a program, a special interest tax break, or corporate subsidy is hidden in this year's budget, does not mean that it will survive the next.

HORSLEY: At the Congressional Budget Office, Orzag has devoted considerable attention to health care costs. Mr. Obama cited health care as an area where government investment in the short run could not only stimulate the economy, but also yield long-term savings. The president-elect has been holding daily news conferences this week to introduce his economic team. Although he's still deferring to the current administration and cautioning there's only one president at a time, Mr. Obama appears to be making a deliberate effort to be heard and seen offering reassurance on economic issues.

OBAMA: I think it's important, given the uncertainty in the markets and given the very legitimate anxiety that the American people are feeling, that they know that their new president has a plan and is going to act swiftly and boldly.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama's selection of generally centrist economic advisers has been well-received by the financial markets and even by many Republicans. But it's also raised questions among some Democrats who want a bigger break from the past. Mr. Obama himself tried to walk a fine line today. On the one hand, he said, it was a desire for change that produced his impressive win in the election.

OBAMA: I don't think that there's any question that we have a mandate to move the country in a new direction and not continue the same old practices that have gotten us into the fix that we're in.

HORSLEY: At the same time, Mr. Obama says he feels a sense of humility and a desire to seek input from Republicans as well as Democrats.

OBAMA: I think what the American people want more than anything is just commonsense, smart government. They don't want ideology. They don't want bickering. They don't want sniping. They want action and they want effectiveness.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says his new team at the Office of Management and Budget will be key players in helping to bring about that vision. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.