Budget panel president’s ‘exhausting’ dream job

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“So, how are the green shoots doing today?”

Nobody would be surprised to learn that this is often the first question that Maya MacGuineas hears in the morning.

As the president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) and the director of the fiscal policy program at the nonpartisan New America Foundation, Ms. MacGuineas is understandably obsessed with “green shoots,” a phrase Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke coined to describe the first signs of economic recovery.

Surprisingly, the question comes from her son, William, 5. Sometimes William asks about the budget. So far, no policy questions have come from daughter Annika, 3.

Welcome to the world of Maya MacGuineas.

“It’s exhausting,” she said, acknowledging she occasionally retires in the evening worried whether she has done enough that day for her children and her jobs.

She is widely known as an impeccably credentialed deficit hawk who nonetheless supported the federal government’s massive borrowing campaign throughout the financial and economic meltdowns during 2008 and 2009.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Ms. MacGuineas said the other day, adding, “the economic recovery is still incredibly risky.”

Married for seven years to Robin Brooks, a globe-trotting financier, Ms. MacGuineas, a political independent and native Washingtonian, lives in Chevy Chase, Md., “one block” from her beloved D.C.

She landed what she describes as her “dream job” at the CRFB in 2003. “I won the lottery!” she exclaimed six years later. “Few people love the budget and worry about the deficit as much as I do.”

The committee is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization committed to educating the public about issues that have significant fiscal policy impact, such as health care, taxes and entitlements. Its board includes a “who’s who” of budget experts, many of whom served as CBO directors, budget committee chairmen and White House budget directors.

Ms. MacGuineas graduated from Northwestern University, where she majored in economics and psychology. “I figured if you can understand markets and people, then you’ll know the important things,” she explained.

After college, she wanted to be either a bartender in London (psychology) or a policy researcher (economics).

She became a research assistant at the Brookings Institution. “For two years, I got paid to keep learning new ideas all the time,” she fondly recalls.

She then spent two years on Wall Street as a stock analyst at Paine Webber, where she says she “became obsessed with the budget deficit and a ‘bond vigilante’ without knowing it.” She wanted to read “Deficits for Dummies,” but she discovered it hadn’t been written. So she decided to write a book about the deficit herself, while serving as policy director at the Concord Coalition, a budget-watchdog group.

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