Sylvia Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, greets guests before speaking at an Economic Club luncheon. Preetisha Sen/Medill. 


WASHINGTON – Federal budget director Sylvia Burwell said this is “the week of hearings” for her and various cabinet departments to help lawmakers digest the basics of President Barack’s Obama’s the $3.9 trillion budget.

But the budget and its defenders will likely face a slew of skeptical questions as cabinet secretaries and department heads make the rounds of authorizing committees on Capitol Hill.

In a conversation-style interview David Rubenstein, president of The Economic Club, Burwell said she is focused on working with Congress despite the negative backlash on the budget from Republicans.

“I don’t take it seriously,” the Office of Management and Budget director said. “What I think is important to take seriously is the intention of the budget.”

In the months leading to the budget’s release, Burwell, who formerly served as president of the Walmart Foundation, said she worked with department heads and congressman to provide guidance on what measures would work. Many lawmakers request meetings with the OMB to personally lobby for initiatives they want to see in the budget.

“Hearing outside voices on the substance of the work we do is an important thing,” the Harvard graduate said. “It’s especially important because the day-to-day pressures of the OMB are such that my ability to go out to the field and see is limited.” sidebar

Despite these meetings, Republicans have critiqued the budget, calling it irresponsible with too many liberal policies. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has said the president’s budget shows “an alarming disconnect” with Americans.

“Economically, this budget calls for more government spending, instead of free enterprise, to create jobs – as if the lessons of five years of this failed approach have been ignored,” Rubio said in a statement last week.

Burwell said that comments of the budget being “an election document” don’t bother her because Obama’s budget aligns with plans he outlined in the State of the Union address earlier this year, such as growing the economy and extending equal opportunity.

“I actually believe that you should articulate what you believe are the right policies. You should run on these, and if you are elected, you should implement those,” she said.  “This budget represents what he believes is the best fiscal path to get there.”

Burwell’s appearance before The Economic Club — a forum with members representing Washington businesses and other organizations — is one of many pitches Obama administration officials have made to sell the president’s 2015 budget.

Last week, Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew, testified before the Senate Finance Committee, defending the budget’s proposals as a way to increase opportunity among Americans.

“The budget is a credible, common sense plan that makes hard choices,” Lew said. “It focuses on economic fundamentals that will help drive growth.”

Even on a Democratic-majority committee, many senators challenged Lew on the proposed tax reforms and other specifics of the budget.

The budget as written has little chance of gaining approval among U.S. House Republicans, as many in the majority don’t agree with Obama’s plans to increase spending.