Republican senators uneasy with Obama’s nominee for OMB deputy director
Republicans on the Hill are taking President Obama’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as a sign the White House is not serious about cutting spending.
Heather Higginbottom, a longtime policy advisor to Democratic politicians, was nominated by the president on January 7 to replace acting Deputy Director Rob Nabors.
“I believe it is pretty clear from the opposition that she is seen as a political operative and that members see this as a sign that President Obama has no interest in having a serious discussion about reducing spending,” one Republican staffer told The Daily Caller.
Higginbottom’s previously served as deputy director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, where, according to a White House press release, she “played an integral role on issues ranging from education to poverty to food safety.”
Before that, she worked on Obama’s presidential campaign as policy director, and spent eight years on Capitol Hill with Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, where she rose to the role of legislative director.
But Higginbottom’s background has not convinced some lawmakers that she has enough experience for such a senior level position at the OMB.
On Wednesday, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, released a statement highlighting Higginbottom’s lack of “relevant” experience and calling it a “major hurdle at this point.”
“President Obama has nominated Ms. Higginbottom for a critical position at a critical agency at a critical time,” said Sessions. “Yet she has a remarkable absence of relevant experience. Instead, her experience is political – such as her work on the Obama presidential campaign.”
Sessions went on to say he has “growing concerns about the lack of candor from the White House when it comes to our nation’s fiscal challenges.”
Even Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is considered one of the more liberal Republicans in the Senate, expressed concern over Higginbottom’s nomination.
“The nominee’s background, while impressive in many respects, does not include a great deal of experience in the budget process or financial analysis which is so important given the fiscal challenges we face,” said Collins.
“I am deeply concerned about the Administration’s lack of leadership on these challenges,” the senator added.
According to the aforementioned Republican staffer, Higginbottom’s partisan background is not a significant factor for conservative lawmakers. As is usual with presidential nominations, the Senate is generally inclined to let the president have his pick for such positions.
“Most members were inclined to do that a week or so ago, until her lack of experience started being highlighted,” the staffer told TheDC. “If she were a political operative with substantive budget experience, she would probably be easily confirmed.”
In a Senate Budget Committee hearing Thursday afternoon on Higginbottom’s nomination, Sessions signaled it would not be an easy confirmation process.
“I cannot support a nominee to this position who cannot discuss this budget with clarity and candor,” he said. “There can be no debating the president’s budget does not live within our means.”
Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska defended Higginbottom’s background, saying “I applaud [her] policy mindset.”
“I would not give her a pass just yet….so she could be hanging around for a long time, unless a deal is cut down the road,” said the Republican staffer. “The likelihood is that she gets through, but don’t be surprised if she is thrown overboard.”
When contacted by TheDC, OMB spokesperson Ken Baer declined to comment on Republican concerns about Higginbottom’s experience or on the prospect of Senate Republicans holding up the nomination. For now, there is no word when a vote on Higginbottom’s nomination will be scheduled.