Our Guest Blogger is John Griffith, Research Associate with the Center For American Progress Action Fund’s Doing What Works Project.
Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) decision to maintain her hold on Jack Lew, President Obama’s nominee for budget director, threatens the administration’s ability to address the country’s profound economic and fiscal challenges. What’s worse, she knows it.
“My position is unchanged,” Landrieu (D-LA) told reporters on a conference call yesterday, citing her concerns about the administration’s approach to offshore drilling. “I’m very sympathetic to the administration’s position. I understand how difficult it is to go without a point person for the budget.”
Difficult? Maybe a month ago. A budget chief is now desperately needed.
The director of the Office of Management and Budget is expected to brief the president on his initial budget proposal by the end of November. With little hope of a Senate confirmation vote before Thanksgiving, it looks like the administration will have to face this critical deadline without an experienced budget manager at the helm.
Lew headed OMB from 1999 until the end of the Clinton administration in 2001, leaving office with a $200 billion federal budget surplus. His experience is especially important as the federal government enters an era of constrained budgets. President Obama has ordered each nonsecurity agency to submit a budget request 5 percent below last year’s discretionary total. The administration must enforce those cuts while funding new measures to boost employment and promote economic growth.
But to Landrieu, that all takes a backseat to… well, it’s unclear.
Landrieu placed her hold on Lew because she opposed the administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP oil disaster. That moratorium was lifted last month. Now she is calling for a “clear path forward” for issuing permits for deepwater drilling in the Gulf. “When that happens, I’ll consider releasing my hold,” she said. “There’s no specific number of permits, but what there is, is a request that there be a clear path forward for the issuing of permits.”
In other words, Landrieu doesn’t know what exactly she’s waiting for. But she’ll know it when she sees it.
Last month, the Obama administration established new rules on offshore drilling aimed at preventing another blowout. Landrieu contends that companies are having trouble interpreting the new regulations. “I’m not asking to be easy on the oil and gas companies, I’m not asking to give blanket permits, I’m asking for clarity of the new regulatory regime,” Landrieu said. “We are asking for clarity, transparency and a statement of support for this industry. So far that hasn’t been completely delivered.”
But the administration has been more than accommodating to Landrieu’s demands for the past two months, despite the fact that her grievances are completely irrelevant to Lew’s nomination. After all, the OMB director has no direct jurisdiction over offshore drilling. The senator should let Jack Lew get to work. With the administration hustling to put together President Obama’s 2012 budget, now is not the time for procedural games.
Landrieu relented this evening, stating that “notable progress has been made” in her talks with the Interior Department and that some new drilling permits have been issued. The Senate promptly confirmed Lew.