Reflections on the Ed Lorenzen Fiscal Internship
By Dominic Gatti
It has been an honor to be the inaugural Ed Lorenzen Fiscal Intern, the position named in memory of a close friend and colleague of many here at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and a giant in the budgeting world. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Ed, his passion for service, deep understanding of policy, and selfless nature inspired me in my work. Sharing an alma mater – American University – with Ed made me feel especially connected to his work and vision, one that is alive and well at the Committee.
Before this internship, my interest in the federal budget centered around passing a budget as a means to promote other policies. My time here opened my eyes to the fact that the way the budget is handled and utilized is an important issue in and of itself. That this internship is named in memory of Ed Lorenzen, one of the authors and most ardent advocates of the statutory PAYGO law encouraging lawmakers to “Pay-As-You-Go,” makes it all the more fitting that I have learned the importance of budget rules that shape everything the government does.
As I have grown in my understanding of debt issues, I have come to believe the U.S. needs to carefully manage our debt so that the federal government can be highly responsive to economic downturns and unforeseen emergencies. As shown by the four major COVID-19 response packages, there are times that it is crucial for the government to be able to finance significant spending quickly with debt. By managing our debt load and paying for priorities, we can regularly engage in impactful policymaking without compromising readiness to respond to emergencies.
The debate around debt often features one side opposed to spending, warning of abstract dangers as a reason to object to new programs, while the other side lauds the potential benefits of the program itself. While macroeconomic forces should be considered and accounted for, policy debates would be more productive if both sides understood that budget policy is significant beyond its use as a tool to pass other priorities. President Biden often quotes his father, saying, "Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value." I would extend that sentiment beyond a given budget. The way the budget process is conducted and treated indicates the degree to which lawmakers value a strategic, evidence-based approach to policymaking. I can confidently say that those at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget value a measured and strategic approach that soberly evaluates all information, and I am proud to model that thinking.
One of the aspects of working here that I enjoyed the most was the people I worked with. From my fellow interns up to the president Maya MacGuineas, everyone was kind, engaging, and always happy to learn from and educate the people around them. I was especially thankful to work under the bipartisan legislative directors Adam Shifriss and Kurt Couchman, who embody nonpartisan ideals of putting the work first and navigating policy differences with good faith and honest conversation. Whenever I talked to people outside of the Committee about my internship, I always paraphrased its general policy position as "we don't care how big you want the government to be, we just want you to pay for it," which indicates the diverse viewpoints that Committee staff hold and their ability to place the goal of fiscal responsibility above political disagreements. Tyler Evilsizer, Ben Tomchik, and Simone Frank did a fantastic job creating a supportive and inclusive virtual environment, and the whole staff contributed to a great learning and growth environment.
I was fortunate to have had my internship take place during a nationally transformative time, especially in terms of the federal budget. Before 2020, the national debt was not projected to reach today’s level for a decade or so. I started my internship shortly after the CARES Act was passed and have been lucky enough to stay on through the passage of the American Rescue Plan. I believe the landscape of federal budgeting has changed, both among budget experts and the general public. With the popularization of Modern Monetary Theory and an invigoration of the outer wings of both political parties who are not concerned with debt, budget discipline is not in vogue politically. But policymakers still need the work that the Committee does, fulfilling its founding mission to serve as an educator and advocate for a sound budget process.
The country is venturing into a new era of budgeting, and it is still far too early to tell what will define budgeting in this post-COVID era. I have learned the Committee is a necessary institution on the landscape of economic and budget policy, strengthening and informing the future of federal budgeting.
Dominic Gatti is a student at American University who will graduate with a Master in Public Administration this May. He served as the inaugural Ed Lorenzen Fiscal Intern starting in Summer 2020 and extending through most of the 2020-2021 academic year due to the unique circumstances of the pandemic. For more information about Ed Lorenzen and his contributions to US fiscal policy, see our remembrance here. Applications are currently being accepted for this summer.