WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Tuesday voted to confirm Congressman Jim Nussle as the new director of the Office of Management and Budget. Nussle’s was confirmed by a vote of 69-24. Following is the statement the Senator made on the floor of the Senate earlier in the day in favor of the nomination:
Madame President, I rise today to express my intent to support the nomination of Jim Nussle as Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
I do so because Congressman Nussle, in my judgment, falls comfortably within the standard that I have set as I have had the honor to dispatch my responsibility under the advice and consent clause of the Constitution, and to state it in non-Constitutional terms, I have always felt that the standard I should apply is not whether I would present this nominee to the Senate, because under the Constitution, that’s not the Senate’s responsibility. It’s the President’s authority and responsibility. The question would be – in dispatching my responsibility under the advice and consent clause, do I conclude that this individual – who the President has nominated – is within an acceptable range for the particular job for which he’s been nominated. On that basis, I have reached a conclusion that I will vote to support Congressman Nussle’s nomination.
I speak in my individual capacity, but I also obviously am honored to be the Chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and I will note for the record that there were no negative votes in our Committee on this nomination and there was one abstention.
Madame President, this nomination would be a significant one no matter when it came before the Senate for a vote because the Office of Management and Budget is a very significant and powerful one in our government. But fate brings it before us at an important and challenging fiscal time in Washington and for our country. The fact is, in less than a month, Congress must enact 12 appropriations bills to fund the vital functions of the federal government for the fiscal year beginning October 1. We have much work ahead of us. It is difficult work. It has been complicated by a number of veto threats emerging from the White House about the appropriations bills. Some have even speculated that the ensuing confrontation will lead yet again to a government shutdown of parts of the federal government. I hope not because no one gains from such stalemate and shut downs.
To meet our obligations to the American people, we must reach across the partisan divide – as voters have so often said they want us to. In this case, that means we must have an OMB Director who is not just but who is constructive. He must be a consensus builder, a willing partner with Congress, a mediator between the Executive and Legislative branches, working to solve problems and accommodate legitimate differences in opinion. He must be a fiscal expert. But he must also, in the weeks ahead, be a statesman.
I support this nomination of Congressman Nussle but I do so with the understanding that the Congressman will have to exercise the full measure of his diplomatic skills, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, to help bring the FY 2008 budget and appropriations process to a satisfactory conclusion.
There’s a lot on the line in achieving that end in a responsible and appropriate way. The nation counts on it, but a lot of individual citizens who rely either on the security that the government provides or the services that the government provides count on us as well.
We are a nation at war. Our soldiers in the field need critical funding to ensure their safety and the success of their mission. We are a nation still under threat of terrorist attack here at home. Resources for our homeland security, our first responders, must be more sufficient than the Administration has provided to date to allow our first responders and homeland protectors to do the jobs we expect them to do for us with the proper equipment and the proper training. We are a nation with an aging infrastructure. The Minneapolis bridge collapse last month was a clear warning that we cannot ignore the highway and transportation systems that move people and commerce in our dynamic and complex society. We have children going to schools across the country who depend on the investment that the federal government makes in their education. We have senior citizens who depend on the federal government to not only protect their security but to provide a decent minimum standard of living in so many different ways in their senior years.
These are just a few of the obligations we have to meet. That is why it is so critical on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue that we come to this budget and appropriations task in the coming weeks with a sense of good faith and share values as Americans who care about our future and our people.
We cannot meet these obligations with confrontation or deadlock. Let me be specific about this. The key difference between Congress’ FY 2008 budget plan and the President’s is the discretionary spending level. Congress established a level of $953 billion. The President set his level at $933 billion. That’s a $20 billion difference. Now, $20 billion is a very significant amount of money. But it represents just 2 percent of all discretionary spending for the federal government for the next fiscal year and represents less than one percent of all federal expenditures. In other words, this difference, less than 1 percent, is something that reasonable people sharing a loyalty to our country out to be able to resolve. It is not a difference that merits a government shutdown in whole or in part. It is a difference that can and must be bridged – by people who understand the budget process and are willing to forge consensus.
Congressman Nussle has considerable experience in budgetary matters, having served as Chairman of the House Budget Committee from 2001 through 2006 and on the House Ways and Means Committee. During his confirmation hearing before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I asked him if he would be willing to advise the President to remain open to compromise on spending levels to avoid a government shutdown. He responded, and I quote the nominee here: “I will remain open and I need to remain open.” That’s part of the reason why I voted to report Congressman Nussle’s nomination out of the committee favorably. I repeat, based on his experience, based on his intelligence, he is comfortably within the range, in my judgment, of people who can serve as Director of the OMB. But, I will say that to me it is critically important that Congressman Nussle keep the promise he made to our Committee that he will do everything in his power as the next Director of OMB to avoid confrontation for funding the federal government in the operations for 2008.
Achieving compromise on the FY08 Appropriations bills is only one of the OMB Director’s many critical responsibilities. He must also help the President prepare and execute the budget across 14 cabinet departments and more than 100 executive agencies, boards, and commissions. The OMB Director recommends where every taxpayer dollar is spent, oversees how each agency’s programs are managed, and reviews vital rules for public health, worker safety, and environmental protection.
The OMB Director also is the chief management officer of the federal government, overseeing how agencies conduct procurement, handle their finances, manage information technology, and otherwise carry out their operations. The numbers here, and I want to pause for a moment to stress the “M” part of OMB, the management part, which is often overlooked because it the “B”, the budgeting that is the most publicly visible. The numbers are startling and disturbing and demand our attention and will, if confirmed, demand Congressman Nussle’s attention. Government spending on contracts has exploded while the overseeing has shrunk, causing widely publicized and, I add, infuriating examples of waste. The problem will only worsen in the years head if we do not act to better protect the taxpayers’ dollars.
The United States Government is the largest buyer of goods and services in the world. Between 2000 and 2006, spending on government contracts has grown from $219 billion a year to $415 billion. That is an astounding 89 percent increase. Yet, the number of federal acquisition specialists – the people who negotiate and oversee the contracts for this $415 billion – these people have dropped dramatically. This is a significant period of downsizing of the workforce in the 1990’s and a small decrease in the last six years in response to an enormous increase in contracting. The numbers are particularly striking at the Department of Defense where the workforce has declined by nearly 50 percent since the mid-1990s. Government-wide the workforce is about to shrink even further if nothing is done since roughly half the current federal workforce is eligible to retire within the next four years. So, it is imperative that he pay particular attention to this challenge, federal government buying, contracting, which involves mores than $400 billion of taxpayers’ hard earned dollars.
Let me conclude by saying I have had serious concerns about how budget responsibilities have been dealt with by the administration over the last six and a half years. While I understand that the next Director will not begin with a blank slate, his performance will be judged by how well he comes to grips with some of these inherited problems.
The next OMB Director will likely be President Bush’s final OMB Director. He will have the opportunity to craft policy that will be a lasting legacy. Let’s hope it’s a lasting legacy of responsibility and fairness. I would urge that, if confirmed, Congressman Nussle take a long look at that legacy and that he works to achieve both the fiscal soundness and fairness that has too often been absent from this administration’s record to date.
For the past six years, we’ve wrestled with the politics of confrontation here in Washington, D.C. and, generally speaking, not only have all of us lost, but, more importantly, the American people and the public interest has lost. As the election season shifts into high gear, we cannot let that increasingly partisan environment culminate in fiscal and governmental chaos. To meet our obligations, we must work together – as voters demand – for the greater good of our nation. Jim Nussle will have a great opportunity and an equally good responsibility to see that we do just that. Thank you.