OMB Pick Wins Early Praise on Capitol Hill

Posted July 13, 2010 at 6:08pm

President Barack Obama isn’t making any waves on Capitol Hill with his nomination of Jacob Lew to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Obama announced Tuesday that he is tapping Lew, currently the deputy secretary of State for management and resources, to fill the slot being vacated by Peter Orszag. Lew served as OMB director under President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001.

In making the announcement, the president praised Lew for helping to balance the budget under Clinton after years of deficits. Obama said Lew would earn a place in the “hall of fame for budget directors” if there was such a thing.

“Jack’s challenge over the next few years is to use his extraordinary skill and experience to cut down that deficit and put our nation back on a fiscally responsible path. And I have the utmost faith in his ability to achieve this goal as a central member of our economic team,” he said.

Orszag, who has worked with Lew under two presidents and is leaving the OMB later this month, hailed his former colleague’s “mastery of the budget process” and said he is “especially qualified to serve the president and the American people during these challenging economic times.”

News of Obama’s OMB pick was welcome on Capitol Hill, where even GOP budget leaders hailed Lew’s track record of bringing spending in line.

Lew is “an excellent pick,” said Senate Budget ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who has worked with Lew on a number of issues. “I find him to be very thoughtful, very smart, very capable,” he said.

[IMGCAP(1)]Gregg and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), who also sits on the Budget Committee, said they would not oppose the nomination.

Gregg and Cornyn said the Senate should confirm Lew to the new post “as soon as possible.” Cornyn added that his nomination shouldn’t be susceptible to the same delays that Obama’s other executive branch selections have encountered.

“My own opinion is that those are independent and shouldn’t be linked,” the Texas Republican said.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Lew probably will not be in his new job until “sometime in the fall,” however, since the administration is still processing paperwork related to his nomination.

“That nomination is not likely to go up prior to the August recess,” Gibbs told reporters Tuesday. “We will work through [Orszag’s] last day at the end of this month, and we will work through an acting director while Jack goes through the confirmation.”

House Budget ranking member Paul Ryan, meanwhile, called Lew an “experienced and well-qualified selection.” The Wisconsin Republican praised Obama’s pick for having “consistently demonstrated a pragmatic approach to tackling challenges and getting things done.”

Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for failing to pass a budget resolution this year, an issue that’s likely to be part of the Senate debate over Lew’s nomination.

But Gregg and Ryan warned that Lew must be prepared to stand up to the administration in order to rein in federal spending — something that they argue has been out of control under Democrats. Members in both parties have been increasingly vocal about curbing deficit spending and trying to bring down the federal debt.

“This administration is running up massive spending and massive debt, and it’s really the job of the OMB director to say the emperor has no clothes,” Gregg said. “It would be nice if the other party stood up to their responsibilities, too, on this issue and started to control spending around here. And that’s Jack Lew’s job. And I wish him the best.”

Ryan called on Lew to help “chart a new course and get a grip on the explosion of government spending.”

Other Republicans offered similar accolades for Lew but said he must be prepared to take a different approach to cutting spending. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), the second-most-senior Republican on the Budget panel and a member of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, said Lew faces the “daunting task” of restoring fiscal discipline at a time when the president submitted a budget this year that triples the public debt in 10 years.

“I am anxious to hear Mr. Lew’s ideas on how to solve our nation’s spending, deficit and debt crisis, and look forward to working with him,” Hensarling said.