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Name: Elmendorf, Douglas
Current Position: Previous Director

Douglas Elmendorf is arguably the most important nomination that President Barack Obama has no say over. Chosen by the leaders of the House and Senate, the director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) holds considerable sway on Capitol Hill because his analyses are used by lawmakers to help them make up their minds on tough decisions. When it comes to the pricey issue of health care reform, Elmendorf is experienced at issuing deadly assessments of presidential plans, having been a part of the CBO team in the mid-1990s that delivered an injurious blow to President Bill Clinton’s ambitious design for overhauling the American medical system.

A native of Poughkeepsie, NY, Elmendorf received his bachelor’s in economics (summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) from Princeton University in 1983. He then attended Harvard, where he earned his Master of Arts (1985) and PhD (1989) in economics. While at Harvard he focused on macroeconomics, public economics, and econometrics, and was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship. His dissertation committee included professors Martin Feldstein, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ronald Reagan, and Lawrence Summers, later president of Harvard and current economic adviser to President Obama.
After graduating, Elmendorf stayed at Harvard for five years and worked as an assistant professor of economics under Feldstein.
In 1993, Elmendorf joined the staff of the Congressional Budget Office as an associate analyst. A year later he was promoted to principal analyst, focusing on healthcare issues and the economic effects of budget deficits. It was at this time Elmendorf was part of the CBO team that concluded President Bill Clinton’s health reform plan would cost much more than the White House claimed, which gave fuel to the president’s critics and helped scuttle the proposal.
Elmendorf left CBO in 1995 to join the Federal Reserve Board as an economist, serving under Alan Greenspan.
In 1998, he joined the Clinton White House as a senior economist on the Council of Economic Advisers, which was led by Director Janet Yellen. He focused primarily on Social Security reform, budget policy, and financial-market issues.
Again, he did not stay long, moving on to the Treasury Department in 1999 as deputy assistant secretary for economic policy. By that time his former professor, Summers, was serving as treasury secretary for Clinton.
With the arrival of George W. Bush in the White House in 2001, Elmendorf moved back to the Fed as a senior economist. A year later he was promoted to chief of the macro-economic analysis team, leading a group of 30 economists and researchers as they forecasted inflation rates and labor markets. He stayed at the Fed for one of the longest stints of his career, six years, before the Brookings Institution came calling.
The liberal think tank made Elmendorf a senior fellow, which included co-editing its yearly publication, “Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.” He was also an Edward M. Bernstein Scholar, along with becoming director of the Brookings’ Hamilton Project, a forum for economic policy discussion.
Six months after being nominated to take over CBO, Elmendorf testified before Congress and told lawmakers that the plan to reform health care lacked important fundamental changes that would rein in skyrocketing costs. The warnings of more runaway expenses produced worry among many Democrats, and left the House White scrambling to keep from losing political support for one of Obama’s most critical policy objectives.
Douglas W. Elmendorf (WhoRunsGov)
Director’s Blog (Congressional Budget Office)
Health Reform as Proposed is Too Expensive to be Sustained (by Sheila Guilloton, Los Angeles Examiner)
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