The president’s pick to manage the administrative state is “on the rocks” after three centrist senators announced their opposition to Neera Tanden for director of the Office of Management and Budget.
The OMB is a crucial part of the executive branch. It functions as the brain of administrative policymaking through its control of agency budgets, spending, and analytical methodology.
Biden nominated Tanden last November. Two weeks ago, the Senate held confirmation hearings. Last week, however, her prospects started to unravel—and, surprisingly, a Democratic senator was first to pull a thread. On Friday afternoon, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he could not support Tanden due to her history of “overtly partisan statements.”
Yesterday morning, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced that she, too, would vote against Tanden’s nomination. Later in the day, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) joined his centrist colleagues in opposing Biden’s OMB pick.
Now, The Hill says that Tanden’s “path to confirmation looks increasingly untenable.” And CNN reports that “White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who is a close friend of Tanden’s, is making calls to senators, looking for a Republican to step up and support her, but those efforts have not been successful.”
If the Senate ultimately spurns Biden’s choice, it would occasion an unprecedented reversal for the modern presidency.
At least with respect to the OMB director, deferential Senate confirmations had been the norm—until Trump. As we’ve explained:
From 1980 through 2016, the Senate cast a total of 48 votes in opposition to a nominee for director of the OMB, and zero votes against a President’s first nominee. Yet, 49 Senators—including the entire Democratic party caucus—voted against Trump’s first nominee for OMB, Mick Mulvaney. Trump’s next nominee, Russell Vought, received a straight party‐line vote.
Were Tanden’s nomination to be voted down or withdrawn, it would mark the first time a president’s initial nominee failed to assume the directorship of OMB. What’s going on here?
To be sure, reflexive partisanship partly explains the recent controversy surrounding the confirmation process for OMB leadership. Another reason is growing interest in the administrative state and, by extension, the OMB.
With Tanden, there’s an idiosyncratic factor that perhaps goes a long way in explaining why her nomination is foundering–namely, her history of vitriolic social media posts. On Twitter, for example, Tanden previously had insulted Sen. Collins, which no doubt contributed to the Senator’s opposition.
While we support congressional oversight of the administrative state, we have expressed two reservations about this modern trend of opposing the president’s pick to run the OMB:
First, the OMB is in the Executive Office of the President, and proximity to the president cannot be discounted when the Senate plays its “advice & consent’ function. Simply put, the president’s choice for OMB director merits more deference than his pick for EPA administrator.
Second … if lawmakers were serious about checking the OMB, then Congress would fix its broken budget and appropriations process. Until Congress takes this basic step back to relevance, it’s hard to take seriously any opposition over whom the president chooses to lead the OMB.
If the sinking of Tanden’s nomination signals that Congress intends to better exercise its power of the purse, then we’re fully on board. If not, then we wonder whether the opposition has a point beyond being piqued by social media slights or mere partisanship. That’s a fair enough basis to oppose Tanden, but it’s not much to celebrate.