It's a terrible time to be without a budget office head

Sunday, October 3, 2010; A18

BEFORE LEAVING town the Senate managed to confirm 54 nominees, including two members of the Federal Reserve, a dozen ambassadors and six U.S. attorneys. Here's what it left behind: a nominee for the Justice Department's No. 2 position, responsible for the day-to-day management of the department. All 23 pending nominees for federal judgeships. And -- perhaps most galling because it was due to the intransigence of a senator from President Obama's own party -- an empty director's chair at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) put a hold on the nomination of Jacob Lew to replace Peter Orszag at OMB. Ms. Landrieu said she found that Mr. Lew "lacked sufficient concern for the host of economic challenges confronting the Gulf Coast," but her move is really not about Mr. Lew at all. Rather, she is unhappy about the president's moratorium on deep-water oil and gas drilling. And so Ms. Landrieu, backed by her Republican home state colleague, David Vitter, blocked the Senate from voting to confirm Mr. Lew, who held the OMB post during the Clinton administration.

It's understandable that the moratorium is a top concern for the Louisiana senators. But holding Mr. Lew hostage is not the right way to express that concern.

This is the start of budget season at OMB. Agencies have already submitted draft budgets, and critical decisions must be made before January. Meanwhile, spending bills for the current fiscal year have not been completed, and the president's deficit commission is to issue a report in December. Leaving OMB without a confirmed head is unfair to the agency and -- more important -- to U.S. taxpayers. There may be a work-around; having been confirmed to his current post, as deputy secretary of state, Mr. Lew is eligible, under the Vacancy Act, to be put in the OMB job before being confirmed. But that does not excuse Ms. Landrieu's behavior.

"It is a sad day when somebody is held up with such bipartisan support with the type of experience that's necessary, in an environment where we have to improve our fiscal picture, that that person is held up for something that is completely unrelated to them," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said of the hold. "I think it is sad, and I think it's outrageous." We agree.

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