In 2019, during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Shalanda Young was behind the scenes crafting proposals House Democrats would use to successfully reopen parts of the government.

Just over a year later, the staff director for the House Appropriations Committee was in the thick of compiling and managing some of the early relief packages at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, Young has emerged as a top candidate to lead the Office of Management and Budget after President Biden’s initial pick, Neera Tanden, withdrew her nomination. Young is already going through the confirmation process to become the OMB’s deputy director.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on March 4 Shalanda Young could serve as acting director of OMB while they find a replacement for Neera Tanden. (The Washington Post)

Young’s supporters are pushing the White House to elevate her to the top job, arguing her experience and deep relationships across Capitol Hill would help bolster Biden’s economic legacy as the administration ushers in a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, manages the pandemic and sets its eyes on an infrastructure bill.

“You can be tough, but you have to be smart, and you have to know when to smile, and you have to know when it’s time to shake hands and say, ‘this is it,’ ” former House Appropriations Chair Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in an interview. “She has all those attributes.”

Young first came to Washington about 20 years ago to serve as a Presidential Management Fellow at the National Institutes of Health. A native of Clinton, La. — population 2,000 when Young was growing up — she received a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University New Orleans and her master’s degree from Tulane University.

Young was the first Black woman to serve as the staff director for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee. In that role, she oversaw $1.4 trillion in annual federal funding for programs ranging from infrastructure to defense to development. Before becoming staff director, Young held other positions within the committee for more than 14 years.

She would also be the first Black woman to lead the OMB, if nominated and confirmed for the job.

“My work on the Appropriations Committee taught me that both sides can compromise without compromising their values — even when that means no one gets everything they want,” Young said at her confirmation hearing for the deputy directorship this week.

Young was core to early stimulus proposals when the pandemic shut down the economy last year.

As lawmakers scrambled to grasp the health crisis and its economic consequences, the House Appropriations Committee was tasked with compiling and managing a host of those early relief measures. Young’s supporters say that responsibility was entrusted to her because of her reputation among Democrats and Republicans alike.

In her confirmation hearing this week, Young said that at the start of the coronavirus crisis, “the full scale of the pandemic was still unclear.” Hill staffers were using models of past supplemental spending legislation for Ebola and Zika, not yet knowing how inadequate those comparisons would be.

“I am not naive about the challenges we face,” Young said at her confirmation hearing. “With covid-19 deaths surpassing 500,000, our focus must remain on beating the virus, delivering immediate relief to millions of struggling Americans and ensuring that we emerge from these crises even stronger than we were before.”

Young was also central to negotiations that ended the 35-day government shutdown at the beginning of 2019, when President Donald Trump refused to budge on funding for the border wall.

Alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Lowey, Young mapped out a strategy that would temporarily allow parts of the government to reopen before any negotiations on homeland security could proceed. Young represented the newly Democratic House majority in negotiations with Republican Senate leadership, holding firm until Trump agreed to temporarily reopen the government without any new money for the border wall.

Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) brought up those shutdown negotiations at Young’s confirmation hearing this week. He pointed to her deep grasp of federal programs and budget procedures that broke ground in a late-night meeting with then-Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), Lowey, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.) and a small group of staffers.

“We reached a solution,” Leahy said at the hearing. “That’s what Shalanda is best at. She knows how to work across the aisle to get a deal done.”

Lowey said in the interview that her partnership with Young was invaluable in tense negotiations with Republican leaders, whether it be annual appropriations bills or to secure funding for emergency supplementals. Young would be the one whispering in Lowey’s ear to negotiate for more money, Lowey said, guided by her instincts on the political dynamics that keep Capitol Hill churning.

Lowey said Young is a firm negotiator. But that toughness, Lowey said, always came with a smile.

“She’s a very good listener, but she’s realistic,” Lowey, now retired, said. “When members had concerns, she was very good at hearing them out ... So while we had red lines and were true to our values, she did share my general approach that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

At her confirmation hearing, Young described growing up in rural Louisiana. She said Clinton was where her maternal great-grandparents lived, and where her grandmother was born in 1928.

Young gave a nod to the importance of education for generations of her family.

“Somehow, even then, in the segregated South, my great-grandparents sent their child, my grandmother, to college,” Young said.

The somewhat-wonky position at the White House budget office has drawn particular attention since Tanden’s nomination unraveled over the past few weeks.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that once Young is confirmed as the OMB’s deputy director, she could serve as acting director while Biden decides on a final candidate. Biden is expected to put forward a name as soon as next week.

Other possible candidates to replace Tanden have included Gene Sperling, a former head of the National Economic Council, and Ann O’Leary, former chief of staff to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

But at least for now, momentum seems to be building around Young.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) came out strong for Young, giving a nod to her expertise on the federal budget.

The Congressional Black Caucus is also rallying behind Young, noting she has already been through thorough vetting for the deputy directorship.

Republicans, too, have expressed their support for putting Young in charge at the OMB. This week at Young’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Young would “get my support, maybe for both jobs.”

“Everybody that deals with you on our side has nothing but good things to say,” Graham said. “You might talk me out of voting for you, but I doubt it.”