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Orszag On Priorities: Health Care First?

Hillary Clinton and Timothy Geithner were the Obama appointees grabbing all of the public attention on Tuesday. But Peter Orszag, Obama’s choice for the post of budget director, may have made the most intriguing statement.

It came while Orszag was responding to a question by Senator Ben Cardin, the Democrat from Maryland. Cardin asked Orszag about the new administration’s agenda--in particular, where Obama would focus his energies after dealing with the economic stimulus package. Orszag explained that the priorities would match those Obama talked up during the campaign:

Perhaps in that order, health care, energy, education, housing, and obviously support for the middle class being an overarching theme, you’ll see a lot of energy and activity surrounding those major items.

Note the opening phrase--”perhaps in that order.” Orszag could have been expressing nothing more than his best guess. Or he could have been indicating the size of the financial investment. But the statement could also reflect an emerging consensus, among Obama advisers, that it makes sense to push health care before energy policy (although it's likely both efforts would still move forward over the course of the next year).

Remember, the budget document Obama submits in February will be the first concrete expression of Obama’s governing agenda. Obama's advisors are working on that document now. And Orszag, as the incoming budget director, is at the center of that process.  

Update: Geithner didn't have confirmation hearings yesterday, as I originally wrote. Duh. Forgive the sloppy writing. Also, for more on Orszag and his role in the coming health care debate, be sure to read Ezra Klein's terrific profile in the American Prospect

--Jonathan Cohn