The Office of Management and Budget was established in 1921 to assist the president in preparing a budget for Congress. OMB’s new director is Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Born and raised in a small West Virginia town, Burwell is just the second woman to hold the high-level cabinet position. She faces an uphill battle with House Republicans: they’ve drafted several bills slashing discretionary programs and are demanding that sequester cuts continue. And a new CBO report warns ending the sequester would hurt the economy. Diane talks with OMB Director Sylvia Burwell about navigating the looming budget battle and making government more efficient.


  • Sylvia Mathews Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).


  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Sylvia Mathews Burwell is no stranger to budget battles. Her work in the Clinton Treasury Department led to four budget surpluses. Now, after spending several years in the private sector, Burwell is back in public life.

  • 11:07:17

    MS. DIANE REHMUnanimously confirmed by the Senate, she's the new director of the Office of Management and Budget. As Congress and the president head for a spending showdown this fall, Director Burwell will be looking to forge a compromise before time runs out.

  • 11:07:36

    MS. DIANE REHMSylvia Mathews Burwell joins me. I invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. It's good to meet you.

  • 11:07:58

    MS. SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELLThank you so much, happy to be here.

  • 11:07:58

    REHMGlad to have you here. You know, I was looking at a Washington Post article from the Congressional Budget Office saying that stopping a sequester would boost the economy, but hurt the long-term output. That's the Congressional Budget Office. You are director of the Office of Management and Budget.

  • 11:08:32

    REHMAll these conflicting sometimes reports from various agencies come out and the public doesn't really know what to make of them. Remind us exactly what OMB does.

  • 11:08:50

    BURWELLSo the Office of Management and Budget is a part of the President's Executive Branch that does a couple of important things. One, is it works on the budget and the budget of the president, providing for, helping the president put together a budget in terms of what the American taxpayers' money will be used to fund and works with the Congress on putting that budget in place.

  • 11:09:11

    BURWELLThe second part of what the OMB does is the management part of what the office does. And those management functions are really twofold. One is to provide oversight to the departments in terms of ensuring that departments are functioning in terms of management in the best way possible.

  • 11:09:29

    REHMYou mean all?

  • 11:09:31

    BURWELLAll the departments, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Department of Health and Human Services and in addition, we support those departments in helping them with best practices for management.

  • 11:09:45

    BURWELLFor example, right now, we're working with all of the departments on how they can make their technology spending more effective.

  • 11:09:53

    REHMHow many employees do you have?

  • 11:09:53

    BURWELLAt the Office of Management and Budget right now, we have about 470 employees. When I was there before during the Clinton years, there were 516 so it is a smaller organization.

  • 11:10:05

    REHMBut how can an organization of 400 and some employees oversee and help other departments manage their own budgets? That sounds like a huge task.

  • 11:10:25

    BURWELLIt is a huge task and it has several different elements to it. One is the actual spending where OMB staff at OMB help sign off on when money is being spent at various points and work with the departments to put together what an actual budget looks like.

  • 11:10:41

    BURWELLThe other part is, again, on the management side, how each department is implementing different parts of how they produce their financial reports or how they implement different types of laws that are occurring with regard to management and budget.

  • 11:10:56

    REHMSo how closely are you working with say high-level officials at the White House?

  • 11:11:05

    BURWELLAh, very closely, the Office of Management and Budget is an interesting entity because it is both considered a cabinet department, but it is also part of the 17 acres of the White House. So I have the opportunity to be in both parts of the president's staff on a day-to-day basis, but having a department that is the Office of Management and Budget.

  • 11:11:29

    REHMAnd how often would you say you have met with the president, the current president since you were appointed?

  • 11:11:39

    BURWELLOn a regular basis, I'm part of the meetings where program and policy are developed by the president.

  • 11:11:45

    REHMAnd to what extent do you offer advice on budget matters?

  • 11:11:54

    BURWELLWell, that is what the primary role is, certainly work with the departments and want to hear what their concerns are, but my primary role is to make sure that the president hears a consolidated point of view about budget issues.

  • 11:12:09

    REHMI'm sure you know that critics of OMB regulatory arm say, "It's the place where new regulations go to die." What's your reaction?

  • 11:12:25

    BURWELLThe Office of Management and Budget in the regulatory space has the function, regulations are written to implement the laws that the Congress passes. And OMB has a role of making sure that when departments are writing those regulations that a number of things happen.

  • 11:12:41

    BURWELLFirst, that the appropriate voices are heard including the incorporation of the voice of the public in terms of the proposed regulation. Second, making sure that alternatives are considered so that the department doesn't just put forward one rule, but thinks about, are there different ways that it might be better to do it?

  • 11:12:59

    BURWELLAnd the third role that OMB plays in the regulatory process is making sure that cost benefit analyses are done.

  • 11:13:08

    REHMSo that takes a long time?

  • 11:13:09

    BURWELLYes, it sometimes does and at varying points takes longer and I think the article you were referring to is that there were a number of rules that had been at OMB for an extended period of time. And in this year and since I've been at OMB we have tried to clear out that backlog of those rules that have been there an extended period of time and are almost, have cut it in half this year.

  • 11:13:35

    REHMGive me an example.

  • 11:13:38

    BURWELLOf a rule that has gone out this year? There have been a number of rules that go out and the regulations are any number of types of things whether those are regulations about food and safety around food or those that are regulations like the type that the president just announced with regard to climate change and making sure that we're going to regulate different types of plants so that we prevent certain types of pollution in the atmosphere.

  • 11:14:07

    REHMNow the president is speaking at various places around the country about his proposals for economic improvement. He's talking today about lowering the corporate tax rate and in exchange promoting a fair amount of infrastructure work in the country. Would that have been a plan you or your office would have discussed with President Obama before he went on to speak about it?

  • 11:14:55

    BURWELLThe entire economic team, the Office of Management and Budget, the National Economic Council, the Treasury Secretary and the head of the Council of Economic Advisors...

  • 11:15:06

    REHMMy eyes are rolling.

  • 11:15:06

    BURWELL...the entire economic team. There is a team and the team works together on exactly the types of things that you were speaking about, in terms of what are the policies and approaches that can drive economic growth and growth for the middle class.

  • 11:15:21

    REHMAnd how much disagreement is there among all those players?

  • 11:15:28

    BURWELLWell, I think the good news is that the agreement is, most of us who came and are working in this administration agree with the president's fundamental approach to the economy which is about the importance of the middle class as an anchor of economic strength in our nation.

  • 11:15:45

    BURWELLAnd so when one talks about those sorts of things starting with an agreement on what the objective is in terms of growing the economy and making sure that the middle class is a part of that healthy economy, that's a great starting point in terms of having agreement from the beginning.

  • 11:16:01

    REHMSylvia Mathews Burwell, she's director of the Office of Management and Budget and that is part of the White House. You can join us 800-433-8850. Send us an email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet.

  • 11:16:30

    REHMAs you mentioned, you worked in the Clinton administration. Then you went to the private sector with the Gates and Wal-mart Foundations. Number one, what did you learn from your philanthropy work that you've brought here to your government position?

  • 11:16:57

    BURWELLFrom both experiences, both at the Wal-mart Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I think there were a couple of key things that I learned and hopefully will bring to this.

  • 11:17:05

    BURWELLOne is a clear focus on impact and who you serve. At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I worked on farmer productivity for farmers in the developing world.

  • 11:17:17

    BURWELLAt Wal-mart, I worked on issues of hunger in our own nation and focusing actually on the individuals that you serve. In terms of those, whether it's a mother trying to feed her children or an elderly person in our own country who is struggling with issues of food and hunger.

  • 11:17:34

    BURWELLAnd so number one is focusing deeply on those you serve and the impact, customer first in a sense. The second thing I would say that those experiences taught me is to always do good listening in terms of critics as well as those who are saying you're doing the right things.

  • 11:17:51

    BURWELLThat listening and listening to critics, I think, is an important part of developing good programs and delivering impact. The third thing I would say I learned is strive for excellence. You can always, always do better.

  • 11:18:05

    REHMAnd why did you decide to come back to the public sector?

  • 11:18:11

    BURWELLI came back and it harkens to the point I was saying about the agreement that I have with the president's approach to a strong economy and what makes a strong economy. Also, because I do have a sense that if one is called to serve then it is a part of what you should do and hopefully I can contribute to moving us forward on the issues I'm working on.

  • 11:18:33

    REHMSylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget. We will be taking your calls, your email after a short break. I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Sylvia Mathews Burwell is with me. She is the new director of the Office of Management and Budget, only the second woman to hold that position. And she's here in the studio. If you'd like to join us, call us, send us an email, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. The fact that you are only the second woman may raise some questions in people's minds because usually it's the men who are making the economic decisions.

  • 11:20:53

    REHMI thought it was fascinating to hear this morning that the woman being considered for the top job at the fed may have a quote "disadvantage" because she is a woman. Sort of took me aback. How would you feel about having that said about you?

  • 11:21:19

    BURWELLWould be disappointed if that were said, but one of the things that I feel very fortunate is that for me, there are so many women who have blazed a path. So that for me in terms of my time and my career -- and I have worked in the fields of economics and on economic policy for many, many years and did so in the Clinton Administration many years ago. And the ability for me to do that I think was because so many women went before. Whether it was Madeleine Albright, in terms of someone I had an opportunity to work with, you know, Laura Tyson who I had an opportunity to work with. Patty Stonesifer, the CEO of the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation.

  • 11:22:01

    BURWELLAnd so there are so many women that I had the chance to follow, that when I come into a position, for me and during my time through administrations and in my other work, those questions have not come up, the question of gender. It's a question of qualification. And so I feel extremely fortunate and appreciative of all those women who went before where it may have been different.

  • 11:22:26

    REHMI want to go back for a moment to your work at the Wal-Mart Foundation. As you well know, Washington D.C. is involved in a question as to whether to allow Wal-Mart to build three new facilities here in Washington. The city council voted that those employees may not be paid at the $9.50 rate that Wal-Mart ordinarily pays employees, but would instead be paid $12.50 an hour. Today and tomorrow, McDonald's employees are on strike across the country asking for a minimum livable wage at $15 an hour.

  • 11:23:31

    REHMAs director of the OMB, what do you see as a living wage? What do you believe about what employees should be able to ask for as a livable wage?

  • 11:23:48

    BURWELLOn the issue of wage, I think the president in the State of the Union expressed and put forward a proposal -- a very specific proposal. And that is to increase the minimum wage.

  • 11:24:00

    REHMFrom $7.50 to $9.50 or $9, I think it was.

  • 11:24:04

    BURWELLThat's correct. That's correct. And I fully support that and think that is an important step. And an important step as people move towards the middle class. And so I think there is something that exists, something that we could do as a nation. Something that would make a difference on this very specific issue now and that is to pass legislation.

  • 11:24:21

    REHMBut is $9 an hour a livable wage?

  • 11:24:29

    BURWELLI think the question of livable wage, it's an important one and I think what one wants to think about, and that's a little bit of what the president's speeches are about, is what does it take, what should you be focused on and what do everyday American citizens get up and they focus on? They focus on their jobs, the wage issue. They focus on health care. They focus on education for their children. They focus on retirement security and they focus on housing.

  • 11:24:55

    BURWELLAnd that's why you see the president -- he kicked off a series of speeches last week and will be giving speeches on those topics because those are the things in terms of people's lives and how they live that are most important. And how do we as a nation make sure that we are supporting and giving people tools to have the ability to have those things?

  • 11:25:18

    REHMRepublicans in high places have said that the president is blowing in the wind, that his statements are hollow, that he's saying nothing new. Do you share his views of Republicans?

  • 11:25:42

    BURWELLIn terms of what the president -- I think the important part of the president's speeches and what is happening right now is to help both the nation and the city of Washington come back to a clear focus on why we were here and what we were send to do in terms of delivering an impact for the American people. And I think that's a very important part of everyone focusing as we get ready to go into a fall where there will be many conversations about specific actions that can make a difference.

  • 11:26:12

    REHMSuch as?

  • 11:26:14

    BURWELLSuch as the budget conversations we'll be having hopefully in the month of September, and even starting now before the Congress goes out. But ensuring that we put in place a budget for the American people that lives up to the kinds of commitments we should have to our American middle class.

  • 11:26:32

    REHMDo you think there will be another fight over the debt ceiling?

  • 11:26:38

    BURWELLThe president has made clear, and I agree, we cannot negotiate on whether the nation should pay its bills. We should not negotiate on whether the nation goes into default. That is bad for our economy and not where we should be. And that is not a place for negotiation.

  • 11:26:57

    REHMSo what happens if the congress again pushes that argument and the congress and the White House come to a stalemate?

  • 11:27:12

    BURWELLWell, what I'm hopeful is is that we can come to an agreement on where we should be with our budget for the upcoming year. In the United States Senate there are bills of the 12 appropriations bills. Those bills have been moving through committee and those bills have been written and those bills stand ready. And so there is an opportunity for us as a nation to make decisions and make choices and keep the government functioning on what would be regular order, which has not occurred in many, many years.

  • 11:27:43

    REHMTell us a little about your background, especially growing up in a small West Virginia town.

  • 11:27:53

    BURWELLI'm from a very small community in southern West Virginia, a little town called Hinton, W V. And the town was about 3,000 people when I grew up. And so I grew up in a very small community where everyone knows everyone. And it's still a place where I spend time and take my children back to. I was just back in Hinton, W.V. for my 30th year high school reunion.

  • 11:28:20

    REHMAnd your father and mother?

  • 11:28:22

    BURWELLI am very fortunate and blessed that both my parents are living and still there. My mother was a teacher and was engaged in many things including serving as mayor of my community after she was the age of 65.

  • 11:28:36


  • 11:28:37

    BURWELLAnd my father was an optometrist in the community and also served on the school board of education.

  • 11:28:43

    REHMWhy did your mother get involved in political activity as late as that?

  • 11:28:50

    BURWELLShe sought a change. She believed that there were things in the community that could be improved and that she could contribute to that. And service -- community service and public service was a theme throughout my life growing up.

  • 11:29:04

    REHMShe served from 2001 to 2008 as mayor. Is that correct?

  • 11:29:11

    BURWELLThat's correct.

  • 11:29:12

    REHMWas that a yearly vote or was she in office for two years?

  • 11:29:19

    BURWELLIt was a four-year term.

  • 11:29:20

    REHMI see. So she ran and won twice. It would seem that that's a great example for you. Did they envision your going into politics, being involved politically?

  • 11:29:39

    BURWELLNo, I don't think so at all. I'm not sure that my parents had any idea of what would follow. They just encouraged both my sister and myself to get good educations and to also serve. And so at our house, before you could trick or treat for candy you had to go and trick or treat for UNICEF and collect money for other children.

  • 11:30:04

    REHMGood lesson. Good lesson indeed. What would you argue was the proudest moment of your service in the Clinton Administration?

  • 11:30:22

    BURWELLI think that I would probably say that the proudest moment is the substance around that we did balance the budget. And we did it in a way that respected, I believe, supporting the economy and the investments that we need to make to keep the economy strong, protecting our national security and appropriately representing the values of this nation in terms of how we do things like treat the disabled and other things. And so I think the proudest moment would be that I was able to contribute to the work of a balanced budget that also made investments in the things that make our nation strong.

  • 11:31:00

    REHMAt your confirmation hearing, Senator Carper, the Democrat in Delaware, told a story about your passing a note to then Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin when he was making his case to the president. Tell us about that moment.

  • 11:31:22

    BURWELLI think that that moment is a reflection of the opportunities that I've had over my time and career to spend time and learn from others, from the president from that room, and see how policy making occurs. How difficult decisions occur and how one can have conversations about differing points of view and come to closure. And so I think that that particular vignette is a reflection of the opportunities that I've had.

  • 11:31:54

    REHMBut you have to tell us what happened.

  • 11:31:57

    BURWELLWell, one of the things I was -- I was Bob Rubin's chief of staff at various points. And so often in meetings I would just hand a note on a point.

  • 11:32:08


  • 11:32:08

    BURWELLAnd that is what I was doing. I was handing the secretary a note in terms of something that I thought he might want to make.

  • 11:32:16

    REHMAnd President Clinton's reaction?

  • 11:32:20

    BURWELLThe president agreed with the point.

  • 11:32:22

    REHM...liked it. All right. We have a number of callers. I do want to open the phones, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a Tweet. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go first to Barry in San Antonio, Texas. You're on the air.

  • 11:32:58

    BARRYGood morning, Diane. Thank you...

  • 11:33:01

    REHMHi, Barry.

  • 11:33:02 You asked this guest of yours about ten minutes ago if she thought $9 an hour was a living wage, at which point she answered nothing at all. She started off about housing, she started off about the economy, she started off about (unintelligible) A very good political speech, but she never answered the question. Is $9 an hour a living wage? And if it is, where it is a living wage? It can be a living wage in San Antonio. It can't be a living wage in New York City.

  • 11:33:36

    REHMThat's a very important point.

  • 11:33:39

    BURWELLI think the issue of the question of the exact dollar amount, as you are appropriately reflecting, varies from region to region in the country. And we do see different states setting rates. What I do think is important is at a minimum as a nation, we do need to raise the current level. And so one of the things I think we need to focus on is what we can achieve and what we can try and achieve quickly in terms of getting more people to a place that is better. And so the president's proposal of increasing that wage right now to that level is something that I think is an important step and progress that we should be making.

  • 11:34:17

    REHMBut you realize that the folks at McDonald's are asking for $15.00 an hour. And it does seem to me exactly as both you and our caller say, maybe $9.00 an hour will act as a living wage in San Antonio, but not many parts of the country. So why isn't the president pushing for a higher minimum wage?

  • 11:34:50

    BURWELLI think one thing that you see in terms of the president's proposals, whether it's here on this particular issue or on the budget package that the president put forth, one of the president's objectives is to lead and get to things that can actually be done. And while we clearly believe the importance of this issue is a priority, fully support it, want it to occur, as I'm sure you know, there are many who oppose even moving as far as we would like to oppose.

  • 11:35:21

    REHMI do know that. At the same time it makes me cringe to realize that a corporate executive in one of those two corporations I've just mentioned would walk away with more than $11 million in salary while arguing against a $9 minimum wage. I mean, surely as director of the OMB, that must hit you in the gut.

  • 11:35:57

    BURWELLI do think this issue is an extremely important one. And as I mentioned, being from a place -- you know, rural communities that I stay in touch with, this is an extremely important issue. And that's why I think getting the energy to get some progress now -- steps forward versus another year of where we are is just a place that I think we want to make some progress. And if we can focus on getting the $9 passed now, we can continue to try and make progress.

  • 11:36:25

    REHMWhy is it that corporate America and stockholders in corporations hold such sway, and the ordinary worker has to go out on strike, has got to try to make a point, but the folks at the top don't hear?

  • 11:36:49

    BURWELLI think it's a challenging question and I think in some cases large institutions have supported the last minimum wage increase. Wal-Mart actually support it the last time that there was a minimum wage increase that the congress was reviewing. It was -- when it became a bill in legislation it was supported. I think what we need to do is continue to help people understand the importance of this issue to every American. And it's important to all of us in terms of how people can live and lead their lives with their families.

  • 11:37:20

    REHMSylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget. Short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. Sylvia Mathews Burwell is with me. If you've just tuned in, she is director of the office of Management and Budget. We're going to go back to the phones, but first here's an email from Kay. "What concerns me," Kay says, "is waste and fraud. What are you doing, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, to eliminate waste and fraud?"

  • 11:40:38

    BURWELLKay, thank you for that question. That's a very important part of the management role of OMB. And specific things have been done over the past years, including shrinking the federal government's real estate footprint, in other words, how much real estate that the federal government has. During the Obama administration $8.2 billion in savings has occurred by getting rid of properties and consolidating and making things smaller in terms of that.

  • 11:41:07

    REHMGive me an example.

  • 11:41:09

    BURWELLHere in Washington, D.C., a recent piece of property was sold, having just moved back to the city. It's over near Georgetown. And so when you sell pieced of property like that and get those off the books, it's sometimes very difficult to do, and there is often opposition in local communities of the sale of the property, but if the--

  • 11:41:31

    REHMEspecially if it's a park.

  • 11:41:32

    BURWELLActually, not those kinds of properties. These are all commercial real estate.

  • 11:41:36

    REHMOkay. Okay.

  • 11:41:37

    BURWELLSo with regard to parks, this is all in the commercial space. With regard to the broader question, President Obama, since I have joined the office of Management and Budge, has tasked me and the team to create a second-term management agenda to build on the work that currently has happened in the first term. And as part of that there are three areas of focus. And one you just hit upon. One of those is the question of effectiveness. How do we make government for effective for our customers? And that is the American citizen and the American business in different settings.

  • 11:42:08

    BURWELLThe second is how do we continue to increase efficiency in the government? And I think that gets to the fundamental question that you're talking about. And you will see cuts and consolidations in the FY '14 president's budget, that are proposals to do that. And the third part of the effort is to focus on the economy. How can management in the U.S. government make a difference to economic growth? Things such as making data available so that businesses can use it. When you think about your applications on your phone for weather, that's data and information from the National Weather Service.

  • 11:42:44

    BURWELLWhen you think about how you get a map, those are applications that are created off of information that the government holds. The more we can have access, hopefully, we can increase innovative, entrepreneurial ideas that will use data and information.

  • 11:42:58

    REHMAll right. To Patrick, here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.

  • 11:43:04

    PATRICKThanks, Diane. And hi, Sylvia. You and I actually worked at the White House together back in the early Clinton years. I'm not surprised to see you in the OMB director's job. You were very smart back then and still are today, no doubt. Question for you about the bigger budget package and deal -- I guess it's being negotiated now, and I know you're in those discussions with members of the Senate, mostly Republicans, according to the news reports.

  • 11:43:30

    PATRICKAnd specifically within those budget negotiations that are happening right now, the reports that there's discussions about social security and possible Medicare cuts and some of it even on the benefit side, as opposed to providers. We know if a deal like that were to be done, we know that Medicare could be cut by looking at some of the corporate subsidies for pharmaceutical companies, also Medicare Advantage providers.

  • 11:43:55

    PATRICKSo I guess my question is, in those discussions, where is the administration coming down on how you would do cuts like that?

  • 11:44:02

    BURWELLThank you. Thank you, Patrick. The issue of -- I think that the articles you're referring to are discussing, I think, more how the Republicans want to approach these issues. In the conversations, you know, I think the president's position has been clear and the administration's position has been clear from when the president put out his budget, which is any package, any big deal, anything that we're going to do must include revenue. And that we believe that one needs to think about these issues of long-term fiscal discipline at the same time one thinks about investments.

  • 11:44:39

    BURWELLIn the president's package that he put out in his budget, which he will be talking a little bit about today, infrastructure. And a large investment in infrastructure is part of what we believe you need to think about. One needs to think about how do you have investments and things that will help the economy continue on its recovery. At the same time, think about the long-term deficit issues and have those things that are further out, in terms of when and how you do that and build on the $1.4 trillion of deficit reduction that's been done.

  • 11:45:12

    BURWELLWith regard to the specific questions about Medicare, we do believe that there are options and opportunities that are included in our budget that do have to do with the providers' side of how one can find cost savings.

  • 11:45:27

    REHMWhat does that mean?

  • 11:45:28

    BURWELLWhat that means is thinking through ways that there are things that when we think about prices of different types of drugs and how those are incorporated in the Medicare and Medicaid systems, that there are limits to what will be paid by the government.

  • 11:45:42

    REHMDoes that answer it, Patrick?

  • 11:45:44

    PATRICKI think it mostly does. I mean I think the administration is probably in agreement on this. We'd like to see most of those cuts implemented on the provider and pharmaceuticals' side as opposed to ordinary American citizens, who, you know, are struggling to get their healthcare needs met.

  • 11:45:58

    REHMIndeed. All right, sir. Thanks for calling. Let's go to South Bend, Ind. Hi there, Jay.

  • 11:46:06

    JAYHello, Diane. And thank you and thank Sylvia. I'm glad that more and more women are having a voice in what's happening in our country.

  • 11:46:16

    REHMIndeed. Thank you.

  • 11:46:18

    JAYMy comment is I'm now 83. I retired in 1989, where I'd spent most of my life in medical finance. And I noticed that every time the minimum wage was increased, what it served to do was increase the revenue into Washington, D.C.

  • 11:46:51

    REHMDo you believe that to be the case?

  • 11:46:53

    BURWELLJay, I would just want to make sure I understand when you say…

  • 11:46:59

    JAYFederal income tax and all the taxes were increased for these people as they made more and more money.

  • 11:47:09

    BURWELLWell, I think the question is where they fall in the tax brackets with regard…

  • 11:47:13

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:47:13

    BURWELLBut I think one of the points around the minimum wage that's important is we believe the minimum wage actually will contribute to healthy economy. And so the broader picture in terms of what it does in terms of people's ability to both consume and save, hopefully, over time, is something that contributes broadly to the health of the economy.

  • 11:47:36

    REHMTo Baltimore, Md. Hi there, Kevin.

  • 11:47:40

    KEVINHi, Diane. Thanks so much for having me on.

  • 11:47:42


  • 11:47:44

    KEVINI wanted to ask your guest, I imagine that it was really hard work to pass a balanced budget or to get a balanced budget in surplus under Clinton. And I'm wondering what it was like on a personal level to see that work kind of squandered during the Bush administration. And then, as a follow-up to that, are we still reeling from the legacy of Bush-era spending?

  • 11:48:09

    BURWELLSo how we got to the point where we are in terms of the spending and the current deficits, which are very large, I will say it is a very different picture than when I entered an administration the last time. To give you a sense of the order of magnitude, when we were having original discussions about the deficit in the Clinton -- I was moving from the campaign into the administration at that time. The number was $180 billion. That's what the conversation was about.

  • 11:48:40

    BURWELLRight now I think most people know that we were very fortunate this year that the deficit has come down on a faster and steeper path than any time since World War II and $200 billion more than we thought it would even in this year. And we are still in numbers that are approximately $800 billion.

  • 11:49:00


  • 11:49:02

    BURWELLSo your fundamental point of, boy, is that a little hard, in terms of knowing, it is. But I think part of what I wanted to do is come back and contribute to over-arching economic health with regard to how we think about it. How we got here I think are a number of issues, in terms of the questions of spending and the question of taxes and the questions of economic growth. And I think those are all the levers that we need to think through and think about at the same time we think about how to keep this economy healthy.

  • 11:49:35

    BURWELLBecause I think the question of deficit is a means. It is not an end in and of itself. Low deficits, balanced budgets, those are not ends in and of themselves. The end is the health of the United States economy and how we serve the American public.

  • 11:49:51

    REHMTo Fort Worth, Texas. Hi, Patty.

  • 11:49:56

    PATTYHi, Diane. My question is, Sylvia, is it working? You know, it didn't seem to work in Obama's first four years. And it, you know, there's so many problems now. So my question is, Sylvia, is it working?

  • 11:50:20

    REHMDo you mean are the president's economic policies working? Is that what you mean?

  • 11:50:28

    PATTYYes, Diane.

  • 11:50:30

    BURWELLSo I think the answer to that is yes. However, more and better needs to be done, and so while we've had 40 consecutive months of economic growth and 7.2 million jobs have been created, that's not enough. That is not enough because I don't think everyone in the country is feeling those changes and those improvements. And that's why you'll hear the president out today and last week and again next week talking about we need to focus our efforts on how we keep this economy growing and how we think about the middle class.

  • 11:51:10

    BURWELLWhat you'll hear the president saying, which I think gets to your point, is that we're focused on thinking about how do we keep the economy growing. And it's a critical time. Progress has been made, but we need to make more. And I'd hearken back to one of the things you said that opened this session, Diane, which is the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, just reported that if we keep the sequester, which are the damaging across-the-board cuts, in place, that it could result in job loss relative to if we didn't have it in place of 900,000.

  • 11:51:45

    BURWELLAnd at a time when we need to keep the recovery moving in a positive direction, those are not the type of self-inflicted wounds that we should give the country.

  • 11:51:56

    REHMYou know, clearly, we have two very, very different ideologies at work here. The president wants to grow the economy. He wants to create more jobs. He wants to make sure that the infrastructure throughout the country is taken care of. He wants to do a great many things, including healthcare for every American. On the other hand, you have a Republican party that wants to shrink government. You've got two basically different approaches. How is this country going to more forward and make progress while those two absolutely different approaches are conflicting with each other?

  • 11:52:55

    BURWELLI think the way that the country will make progress is by reasonable people coming together and talking about the real substance of the issues. When we talk about the issue of these levels of funding, it's not about levels. It's actually about what's happening. And right now there will be tens of thousands of children who may not receive Head Start. Right now, with the current levels -- and the United States Senate has written budget bills -- there are 12. That's how they do it. They do it in pieces. And there are 12 bills that they are working on that have levels of funding that don't do things like affect the readiness of the United States military.

  • 11:53:39

    BURWELLAnd so what I am hopeful about is that when people have reasoned conversations about the substance, that we can get to a place of compromise.

  • 11:53:47

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Louisville, Ky. Hi there, Darrell.

  • 11:53:57

    DARRELLHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:53:59


  • 11:54:00

    DARRELLI would like to shift the focus just a bit and ask your guest -- what really troubles me is how a congressman or a senator or an elected official at that rank, you know, they'll go into an election with a net worth of, oh, say a half a million. And in four years they will amass a $2 million, $3 million fortune. I would be interested in their investment portfolio versus the wages. And, you know, it's just obvious that big business owns and runs this country. And that's just my opinion. I'm sorry, but, you know, that's just how I feel.

  • 11:54:34

    REHMAnd I think there are a great many people in the country, Darrell, who feel as you do. Sylvia?

  • 11:54:42

    BURWELLI'm not sure that I have more to add or anything. Although, I'm going to start looking into the point you've pointed out.

  • 11:54:52

    REHMYou mean where they start out and…

  • 11:54:53

    BURWELLThe question that the -- Yes.

  • 11:54:55

    REHM…where they end?

  • 11:54:55

    BURWELLYes, it's something that I had never…

  • 11:54:56

    REHMI think that would be something for you…

  • 11:54:58

    BURWELLThat's something that I had never noticed so I thank you for raising us something to look at.

  • 11:55:01

    REHMAll right. And finally, to Evansville, Ind. Hi, Kristy.

  • 11:55:07

    KRISTYHi. Thank you for taking my call, Diane.

  • 11:55:09

    REHMSure. Very quickly, please.

  • 11:55:11

    KRISTYYes. I am a small business owner. And we do pay our employees minimum wage to start with. In restaurants, minimum wage employees are usually transient, there's high turnover. And I'm wondering have they thought about how this is going to affect the small business person, the small business owner, because our labor expenses are so high to begin with. We're not like the big corporations.

  • 11:55:36

    BURWELLYes. That is a very important issue. And coming back to the question of amounts and that sort of thing, is considering what one sets the wage at and how one implements. The small business issues are front and center and very important. There are things that you will see, including in the president's speech today, how do we make sure we are always considering the importance of small business as great job creators in our country.

  • 11:56:00

    REHMAnd one final tweet from David in Texas. He wants you to help clarify, "How does the president's budget relate to budgets developed by the House and Senate?"

  • 11:56:17

    BURWELLThe president sends up a budget every year. And then the House and Senate create their own. Usually what happens in regular order is the House creates one, the Senate creates one, they have a conversation and they agree on the broad framework. The Senate has passed one. The House has passed one. The Senate has appointed and wants to appoint the people to have that conversation, but the House has not, at this point, allowed that to happen.

  • 11:56:44

    BURWELLSo that's the way the president's budget generally interacts, is it is a framework, the Senate and the House look at it, they take some things, they don't take other things, to be honest.

  • 11:56:53

    REHMSylvia Mathews Burwell. She's going to be very, very busy in the coming months as director of the Office of Management and Budget. I hope you'll come back as that process goes on. Thanks for being here.

  • 11:57:12

    BURWELLThank you so much for having me.

  • 11:57:13

    REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows