Interview with Public Program Speaker Maya MacGuineas

Before MacGuineas’s discussion with Professor Charles Wheelan regarding the federal budget on October 19, 2015, Nikita Bakhru ’17 sat down with her for an interview.

Maya MacGuineas is the President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget as well as the head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt. Her areas of expertise include budget, tax, and economic policy. MacGuineas testifies regularly before Congress and has published broadly. Once dubbed “an anti-deficit warrior” by The Wall Street Journal, Maya comments often on broadcast news and is widely cited by the national press. In the spring of 2009 Maya did a stint on The Washington Post editorial board, covering economic and fiscal policy. Maya has worked at the Brookings Institution and on Wall Street. As a political independent, she has advised numerous candidates for office from both parties, and works regularly with members of Congress on health, economic, tax, and budget policy.

Nikita Bakhru (NB): Your areas of expertise include budget, tax, and economic policy. What led you to these interests?

Maya MacGuineas (MM): For my first job, I was choosing between being a bartender in London and working at a think tank – I chose to work at the think tank. I spent two years doing research there and thought it was the greatest job in the world because I got paid to learn about new topics all of the time. I later thought I could do something similar in the private sector, so my next step was research on Wall Street. The research there, however, was much more bottom line, profit-oriented, and it didn’t inspire me in the same way. But, at the same time, budget deficits were common in the news and piqued my interest. Next thing I know, I was really concerned about the issue. I thought that this country was borrowing too much money. My interest shifted my whole course of work and, after that, everything was geared toward that topic.

NB: Can you please describe your role as the President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget?

MM: The committee was non-partisan and non-profit. When joined about eleven years ago, it was very small, I was working half-time, and I had a half-time assistant. It has grown to a few more than 25 now. Running an organization has a lot of different responsibilities such as raising money, overseeing and thinking through the policy work, writing and speaking publicly, controlling the media, and building the network that’s part of the organization. There’s a lot of strategic planning within the organization – figuring out how you’re positioning it and where you’re going in the next five years – and there’s a lot of daily oversight to make sure everything in different areas is getting done. Overall, it was a lot of management and I found that I’d rather be doing more policy and less management.

NB: How does this compare to your responsibilities as the head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt?

MM: I morphed the two of them into the same thing. One of them is a very DC, inside organization – the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget – where we read every Congressional report and analyze them while working closely with members of Congress. The Campaign to Fix the Debt is much newer and was started to build an outside network where any budget deal that we ultimately have is going to be so filled with policies that are easy to hate because fixing the debt is going to require cutting government spending and raising taxes, which no one likes. We want to build a network of people – students, CEOs, civic leaders, and more across 23 different states - that would be willing to push for a big deal and talk about the benefits of it. I look at both of these positions as working together – one is working on policy and the other on operations.

NB: How do you find advising candidates from both parties as a political independent?

I am a die-hard political independent – I grew up in a Democratic family and never met a Republican until I got to college. I try to understand both points of view and find that members of both sides trust me. I don’t do politics, but I understand the budget. When I give advice, it doesn’t matter what party I’m talking to; I’d give the same advice to anyone. I don’t have to worry about trying to position them. I believe it all comes down to how we have to do a lot more to help people who are not getting income growth the way that we used to. We’ve made promises with the budget that leave us very little flexibility and something needs to be done about it.

-Written by Niki Bakhru '17, Rockefeller Center Student Program Assistant for Communications