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Divided panel sends Higginbottom nomination to full Senate

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More than most agency chiefs, Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew could probably use a trusted number two just now.

He may have to wait a while.

Although the Senate Budget Committee approved Heather Higginbottom’s nomination for OMB deputy director today, the 11-10 party-line tally bodes poorly for a short and sweet confirmation vote by the full Senate. The panel’s top Republican, Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has questioned Higginbottom’s bean-counting credentials and, although Sessions hasn’t said that he’ll put a hold on her nomination, he does want “adequate time” for debate, according to CQ.  Not a good sign.

Higginbottom currently serves as deputy director of the White House domestic policy council; the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved her nomination—on a similarly close party-line vote—last month.  The OMB slot has been vacant since Rob Nabors became White House director of legislative affairs earlier this year.

“Given the tremendous fiscal and economic challenges facing the nation, it is critical that the President has his complete budget team in place,” Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said in a news release today. “I hope the full Senate moves quickly to schedule a vote on this nomination.”

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Obama chooses new OMB deputy chief

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President Obama has settled on policy veteran Heather Higginbottom as the new deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Higginbottom, a former aide to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who also was policy director for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, currently serves as deputy director at the White House Domestic Policy Council.

“She understands the relationship between numbers on a ledger and the lives of real people,” Obama said when announcing her nomination for the OMB slot Friday, along with several other appointments.  “As we make cuts that are necessary to rein in the deficit, I want to make sure I’ve got Heather there so that we’re meeting our fundamental obligations to our people and to our economy as well.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Higginbottom will replace Rob Nabors. A Binghamton, N.Y. native, she has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Rochester and a master’s degree in public policy from The George Washington University.

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Nabors: “Not an across-the-board cut”

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OMB deputy director Rob Nabors held a conference call with reporters a little while ago to talk about President Obama’s proposed three-year “non-security discretionary spending freeze.”

As we mention over on the homepage, the freeze only affects a fraction of the federal budget: $447 billion, or about 17 percent of total spending. Nabors clarified that it exempts Defense, Homeland Security, the VA, and the entire State/international affairs section of the federal budget. He also emphasized that the cuts aren’t uniform.

It’s not an across-the-board cut. We have honored the president’s commitment and gone line-by-line through the budget trying to find those programs that aren’t working, aren’t achieving their mission.

So some agencies in that “non-security discretionary” category will see their budgets continue to increase. Education, for example, probably will see some gains.

The flip side is that other agencies could actually see their budgets shrink. That’s simple math: If the $447 billion figure is fixed, and some agencies get more money, others have to receive less. We won’t know for sure until Monday, though, when the administration’s budget request is released. (And of course this all assumes Congress agrees to a freeze, which it hasn’t yet…)

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Official picks at OMB

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12:06 PM: Obama reiterated his pledge to go “line-by-line” through the federal budget looking for failed programs:

Budget reform is not an option. It’s a necessity. We can’t sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that have outlived their usefulness. We simply can’t afford it.

12:00 PM: On top of yesterday’s economic team announcements, the president-elect made two more official nominations today:

  • As expected, Congressional Budget Office director Peter Orszag will take over as head of the Office of Management and Budget;
  • Rob Nabors, the staff director of the House Appropriations committee, will be Orszag’s deputy at OMB.

Obama is holding a press conference at noon ET; we’ll update with any interesting comments.

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