Alice Rivlin, the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office and a relentless fighter for deficit-reduction while vice chair of the Federal Reserve, has died. She was 88.
She died Tuesday, according to Shannon Meraw, spokeswoman at Brookings Institution, where Rivlin was senior fellow.
Rivlin, whose career as an economist and budget scold included a stint as director of the Office of Budget and Management under President Bill Clinton, made her biggest splash as an advocate of debt and deficit cuts during the administration of President Ronald Reagan.
As CBO director, she questioned the validity of his optimistic deficit projections, a criticism that caused an outcry among Republicans in Congress who called for her to step down.
Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief of vox.com, called Rivlin the “queen of Washington’s budget wonks” during a 2016 interview with her. “There is no budget wonk in Washington with a resume as thick as Alice Rivlin’s,” Klein said.
He cited her various federal government jobs, her work with the 2010 bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (the so-called Simpson-Bowles Commission) and her service as the president of the American Economic Association.
Tax Cut Critic
While at the CBO, Rivlin set the tone for its cold-shower mission, saying it would act neutrally not politically in handling requests from members of any party for data or analysis. She called the CBO the “official purveyor of bad news to the Congress.”
Rivlin began her government career in the 1960s during the Great Society era of federal programs. She remained a consistent advocate of big central government as the director of policy, rather than private industry, and a critic of tax cuts that were promoted as likely to boost investment.
In 2008, she was named one of the greatest public servants of the previous 25 years by the Council for Excellence in Government.
She had worked at the liberal Brookings Institution before entering government, and returned there for repeated spells through the 1980s.
In 1993, Rivlin became Clinton’s deputy budget chief under Leon Panetta, then replaced her boss — and became the first woman to hold that cabinet post — when Panetta became White House chief of staff.