US President Barack Obama has nominated Shaun Donovan (center) to head the Office of Management and Budget. (Jewel Samad / Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — The US Senate Budget Committee’s top Republican jabbed President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), questioning his ability to manage one agency — much less the sprawling federal government.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the panel’s ranking member, donned reading glasses while reciting what he called evidence that Shaun Donovan, as Housing and Urban Development secretary, exhibited “ineffective leadership.”
The veteran lawmaker, citing HUD-related concerns raised by House members, scolded Donovan late in the hearing: “Secretaries have to manage their departments.”
Sessions also said he is “disappointed” that Donovan signaled, during an exchange with Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that he “is going to come back here next year and break the caps again.”
That was a reference to defense and domestic spending caps put in place last December by a bipartisan budget resolution negotiated by Murray and House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Donovan told the panel he wants to work “with Congress to continue the important progress made on the budget over the past year.”
He said the Ryan-Murray deal and a 2014 government-wide spending bill also passed late last year “were good first steps in moving beyond the manufactured crises of the past few years and providing some measure of relief from the damaging cuts caused by sequestration.”
To replace or again lessen the sequestration cuts set to take effect in 2016 and beyond, lawmakers would have to broker another budget accord that replaced some — or all — of those across-the-board cuts with other deficit-reduction measures.
Donovan hewed close to the Obama administration’s long-held demands for such a “grand bargain,” saying the “primary drivers” of America’s projected debt and deficits are “health care cost growth and inadequate revenues to meet the needs of our aging population.”
But Republicans, as they have for several years, continue to reject the amount of new revenues congressional Democrats and the White House have insisted upon in past failed tries at a big fiscal deal that would undo sequestration. And Democrats continue to reject the deep federal spending cuts — mostly to domestic entitlement programs — favored by the GOP.
As OMB chief, if confirmed by the full Senate, Donovan would be a central player in any future fiscal bargain talks.
The nominee was urged by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., to submit the administration’s 2016 spending plan on time, meaning in early February.
Donovan’s confirmation seems all but assured. Only Sessions hammered him hard on Wednesday. And Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said he is “inclined” to support the nomination because, as HUD chief, Donovan has personally helped with storm-relief efforts in Mississippi.
Murray said she intends to move Donovan’s nomination to the Senate floor “as expeditiously as possible.” ■