As Jeffrey Zients, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, prepared to testify before Congress, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan recognized the enormity of his task. "With the departure of Mr. Lew from OMB just last month, we understand that you are testifying on short notice, and we recognize the difficulty of that," Ryan said in his opening remarks. "And unfortunately, your job is even more difficult than usual - you are in the position of having to defend a budget that essentially dodges the most difficult challenges our country faces."
Indeed, Zients has struggled a bit. First he got into a testy exchange with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) that culminated in the Senate Budget Committee's ranking Republican asking Zients to consider resigning if his numbers were wrong (video below). Then Zients undermined the legal case for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by appearing to concede that the individual mandate was not a tax. Zients did so under questioning from Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), who asked him if the fine paid by people making less than $200,000 a year who elect not to carry health insurance constitutes a tax. The dilemma was obvious: Politcally, the Obama administration can't say it has raised taxes on anyone whose income is below that magic number; legally, their case for the individual mandate is that it is a tax.
Here's Zients' exchange with Sessions:
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