Landrieu Still Holding Budget Director Hostage For Big Oil

For the last 56 days, Office of Managagement and Budget director nominee Jack Lew has been held hostage by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA).  Landrieu’s first ransom note to President Obama demanded that his administration lift the temporary moritorium on new deepwater drilling which was in place during the Gulf oil disaster, but that moritorium has since been lifted.  Landrieu responded with a new set of demands, saying that she will not release her hostage until she is certain that the “lifting of the moratorium is actually putting people back to work.”  Now that it’s clear that the moritorium had little impact on jobs, however, Landrieu has a third set of demands:

In September, Landrieu, D-La., blocked the nomination of Jacob Lew to head the Office of Management and Budget to protest the administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling in the Gulf. Even though the moratorium was lifted Oct. 12, Landrieu said she remained displeased with new rules for drilling operations.

The new drilling rules are meant to prevent another catastrophic blowout like the April 20 explosion at a BP oil well off the Louisiana coast that led to the release of more than 200 million gallons of crude. . . .

But Landrieu said she would continue to block Lew’s nomination until the Interior Department fixes “the regulatory nightmare” hindering deepwater drilling. She said companies were struggling to interpret what the new rules required.

“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 during a teleconference with reporters upon her return from a trip to the Netherlands, where she looked for lessons to take home to Louisiana from the Dutch model of living below sea level.

Sadly, this kind of hostage taking happens all the time in the United States Senate — earlier this year, for example, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) placed a hold on over 70 nominees in an attempt to force the federal government to award a $35 billion defense contract to Northrop Grumman.  But it’s unclear what Landrieu thinks she going to accomplish by playing Calvinball with her demands.  Why should the Obama Administration deliver her a suitcase full of small, unmarked bills when she is simply going to turn around and demand a helicopter and free passage to a non-extradition country?

Moreover, as John Griffith explains over at the Wonk Room, Landrieu is playing a particularly dangerous game by targeting the official in charge of drafting the annual federal budget.  OMB must present its initial draft of the next year’s budget at the end of November each year, and Lew could have contributed a great deal of expertise to this draft.  Lew headed OMB from 1999 until the end of the Clinton administration in 2001, leaving office with a $200 billion federal budget surplus.

In other words, America needs Lew’s fiscal guidance a whole lot more than it needs Mary Landrieu looking out for big oil.


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.

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