Lew Confirmed as OMB Chief after Landrieu Gets Her Way
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The Fiscal Times
November 19, 2010

Jacob ("Jack") Lew, President Obama's choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, is free at last, after Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., dropped her months-long hold against his nomination late Thursday night and the Senate confirmed Lew by voice vote. Lew was sworn in this afternoon by the White House executive clerk, Tim Saunders.

The administration repeatedly pleaded for a speedy confirmation of Lew to replace former White House budget chief Peter Orszag amid serious budget and economic problems. But Landrieu kept the road block in place until she could extract concessions from the Obama administration on deep-water and shallow-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the BP oil spill and a brief moratorium on drilling.

Lew, a former OMB director during the Clinton administration who served the past two years as a high-ranking official in the State Department, has been in limbo since September while the administration tried to iron out the dispute with Landrieu. Obama welcomed the news of Lew's confirmation Thursday night and praised Lew's "unparalleled experience and wisdom" to right the economy.

"After years of irresponsibility in Washington, we need to make the tough choices to put our country back on a sustainable fiscal path and lay the foundation for long-term job creation and economic growth," Obama said in a statement. "I am confident Jack Lew can lead us in these efforts, and look forward to working with him in the days ahead."

Landrieu cited "notable progress" in her talks with the Interior Department and said that some shallow water permits had been issued in recent weeks. She said she had a commitment from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to travel to Louisiana next week and provide some clarity to the rules."I figured it would get their attention," Landrieu said of the hold, "and I think it has."

The administration is putting together a budget for 2012 that needs boost the fragile economic recovery, and begin the process of putting the budget on a sustainable path.

The delay in Senate action on Lew's nomination couldn't have come at a worse time, as the nation continues to stagger through a devastating economic downturn. The President and Congress face decisions about appropriations for fiscal year 2011, expiring tax cuts, the expiration of extended unemployment benefits, and a pending 21 percent cut in Medicare physician reimbursements.

In early December, the President's Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform will try to reach agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit. Not too far into next year, the debt limit will have to be increased. And the administration is in the middle of putting together a budget for 2012 that needs to provide a boost for the fragile economic recovery, meet crucial national needs, and begin the process of putting the budget on a sustainable path.

She's Got a Hold on Lew
The saga began nearly four months ago, after Orszag resigned as OMB Director and decamped for New York to be with his fiancé. Obama wasted little time in finding a successor to Orszag, and last July tapped Lew. The 55-year-old Lew, a lawyer and one-time adviser to legendary House Speaker Tip O'Neill, D-Mass., has impeccable credentials as an expert on budget policy and the inner working of the federal bureaucracy.

But the wheels started to come off the bus in September when Landrieu, put a "hold" on Lew's nomination before it could reach the Senate floor.

As Obama and many others were quick to note, Lew was at the federal budget helm in the Clinton administration during the 1990s, the last time the budget was balanced. It was little surprise, then, that he sailed through his confirmation hearings last summer and received the overwhelming endorsement of the Senate Budget Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

But the wheels started to come off the bus in September when Landrieu, put a "hold" on Lew's nomination before it could reach the Senate floor.

A hold is an informal practice by which any senator can inform his floor leader that he does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration — and usually that is enough to stop a measure or nomination in its tracks.

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.