Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bernanke, Geithner, and Orszag Face Congressional Committees Mar. 3, 2009

Well, I've now seen Geithner and Bernanke testify before several Congressional committees and yesterday I saw Orszag's first budget presentation.

Here's my assessment of the three as performers.

Without question, he is the worst of the three. He is simply not a good salesman - in large part because of a number of quirks. First, he has a tendency to hunch over the mike and look up at the committee from under his eyebrows. Second, he has a habit of starting answers with phrases such as "that's an excellent question". Third, he has an Obama-like tendency to repeat the same phrases over and over and over. Fourth, and worst of all, he is defensive. He may be very, very smart. And his plans may, indeed, pull us out of this mess. But he does not give that impression and right now we need somebody who can be seen to be confident, optimistic and in charge. (It also doesn't help that he continues to talk in generalities.)

Calm and respectful. Sometimes, I think, too respectful. Like Geithner, he is smart. And he has acted decisively. But in front of Congressional committees, he comes off as a bit of a mouse. Perhaps he feels constrained because of the position he holds, but he seems to bend over background not to get into any kind of argument with any of his questioners - which limits his ability to sell, to Congress and to citizens, the actions he has taken.

Triple A+. His performance yesterday was masterful. His command of budget details was awesome. His answers to the questions posed were concrete and short. No endless justifications of the general strategy, goals, etc. Moreover, he was not intimidated by the Republicans and he was indulgent toward those Democrats whose questions were designed solely to prove how good this budget is in contrast to the Bush budgets. Not only was he never defensive, he seemed to enjoy the give-and-take. Orszag came across as a man who understood the budget, who supported the budget, who was not ashamed of the choices made in creating the budget. Cheers.

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