When Congress soon leaves the Capitol for the campaign trail, a long list of unfinished business will likely be left behind. This year will mark the first year since the modern budget process was created in 1974 that no budget resolution has been passed by either the House or the Senate. Of the twelve appropriations bills necessary to fund the federal government during the coming year, Congress has not enacted one of them. To avoid a government shutdown, Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution this week.
If this breakdown of the budget process were not discouraging enough, there now appears to be a possibility that the Senate could leave without confirming the President's nomination of Jack Lew to head the Office of Management and Budget. The two Senate committees with jurisdiction over the nomination held public hearings and promptly approved the nomination with decisive bipartisan votes. The Budget Committee approved the nomination by a vote of 22-1 and the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved the nomination with a unanimous vote of 9-0.
Strong bipartisan votes in committee often lead to quick consideration of a nomination by the full Senate, though an individual senator can still block consideration of the nomination on the floor. In the case of the OMB nomination, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is currently in the process of doing so. Last week, she announced a block of the nomination until the existing moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling is lifted or modified. The current moratorium was put in place by the Obama administration to allow sufficient time to implement new safety measures after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Negotiations over the nomination are ongoing, and recent reports have suggested that Landrieu continues to object to a vote.
While reasonable people may disagree on the merits of the Jack Lew nomination or offshore drilling, it would be fiscally irresponsible for the Senate to leave for the recess without at least voting on the OMB nomination. The offshore drilling moratorium raises important energy policy issues that deserve to be fully debated in the Senate. However, the price for having this debate should not be delaying consideration of the OMB nomination.
At a time when deficits exceed a trillion dollars and the President's fiscal commission is preparing to consider recommendations, we need a confirmed OMB Director as soon as possible. Staff at OMB and other agencies are already hard at work preparing the President's budget for next year, and the workload will only grow heavier over the next few months. Throughout this process, the serious fiscal challenges facing our nation will require many difficult and controversial decisions to be made. As difficult as these decisions will be, they will be even harder if no one is in place to make them.
-- See also this story.