Alice Rivlin, Queen of Washington's Budget Wonks
Alice Rivlin is a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and Office of Management and Budget. She has served as a member of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility (Simpson-Bowles) and a co-chair of the Domenici-Rivlin Debt Reduction Task Force. She is currently on the board of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She recently appeared on "The Ezra Klein Show." A summary of the interview is available below, and the full interview can be listened to here.
In the interview, Alice Rivlin discusses why she became an economist, her early years in Washington, her time directing the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the successes and failures of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), how policy making has changed over the years, and how the economy could change in the next 30 years.
Rivlin begins by recounting when she switched from studying history to economics in college because she thought it would be more useful and could have a greater effect on the world. What she found most useful of economics was public policy, given how economists are trained to think systematically about choices and using limited resources effectively. Rivlin believes that economics has drifted from public policy and become more quantitative with statistical manipulation and mathematical theory.
She goes on to discuss coming to Washington through a fellowship at the Brookings Institution that would allow her to finish her dissertation. Then she goes into the early beginnings of CBO and how she ended up becoming its first director. As the first person to lead the newly created agency, she explains how she wanted it to be strictly nonpartisan and thought it would be best to offer policy alternatives rather than make policy recommendations so that CBO's work remained objective.
Rivlin moves on to discuss how policy is much more informed today, but the process hasn't gotten better due to the polarization of both of our political parties. She believes both parties have lost the feeling that compromise is necessary, even though our constitutional system was set up for compromise. Rivlin argues that nothing can be done without compromise among both houses, across party lines, and with the President. She hopes lawmakers will get back to the idea that compromise and negotiation are a part of the policy process. Rivlin would also like to see that people drift from the idea that something is right or wrong and instead become informed about the economics behind an issue and its proposed policy before making a decision.
"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the Committee.