Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the philanthropy executive and Clinton administration veteran whom President Obama named on Monday as his next budget director, drew praise from Capitol Hill for her qualifications, though Republicans used the announcement as another chance to call for deficit reduction and timely budget submissions.
Standing with Burwell and other Cabinet nominees at the White House, Obama said his pick to head the Office of Management and Budget “understands that our goal when we put together a budget is not just to make the numbers add up. Our goal is also to reignite the true engine of economic growth in this country, and that is a strong and growing middle class --- to offer ladders of opportunity for anybody willing to climb them."
Burwell is currently president of the Wal-mart Foundation, having previously led the Global Development Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Billed by the White House as an “expert on budgetary and domestic policy,” she was OMB’s deputy director from 1998 to 2001 as well as deputy chief of staff to President Clinton and chief of staff to Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.
Reaction to the choice on Capitol Hill was largely positive. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Budget Committee, said, “Sylvia has devoted much of her career to public service and philanthropy. She clearly understands the impact of fiscal and budget decisions on the lives of families.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., commended Obama on her selection. “Burwell has led an impressive career in both the public and private sectors,” he said. “She has first-hand experience in budgeting responsibly. In her previous tenure at OMB, she helped a Democratic president commit to a balanced budget and work with a Republican Congress to get it done. The American people deserve a responsible, balanced budget. I invite the administration to join us in committing to this sensible goal.”
Ryan’s Democratic counterpart on the committee, Rep Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, said Burwell "has an extensive knowledge of budget issues and a proven track record of bringing people together to tackle the serious issues facing our nation. Our budget is more than numbers --it is a statement of our nation's priorities,” he said. “Ms. Burwell shares President Obama's commitment to creating jobs and reducing our long-term deficit.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., ranking member of the Senate Budget panel, said, “We will fairly and thoughtfully evaluate this nomination. Whoever holds this office must be a strong leader, must be independent-minded, and must know that this is a management office and not a political one. The director must lead an effort to make government leaner and more efficient, and must be committed to providing honest and accurate information on the dangerous financial condition of our country.”
Sessions added a criticism: “Sadly, under past leadership in this administration, the budget office has failed to be honest time and again.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Burwell would take the post currently held on an acting basis by Obama’s chief performance officer Jeffrey Zients. The previously confirmed budget director was Jack Lew, who became the president’s chief of staff before he was confirmed last week as Treasury secretary.
Mike Duke, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., released a statement praising Burwell as “a strong leader who both masters the details and has a clear vision for making big things happen. She cares deeply about people and has natural personal warmth that enables her to build relationships and drive results that deliver impact. She understands business and the role that business, government and civil society must play to build a strong economy that provides opportunity and strengthens communities across the country.”
Patrick Lester, fiscal policy director of the Center for Effective Government (formerly OMB Watch) who worked with Burwell at OMB, said she is “incredibly nice and diplomatic, so if the administration is looking for someone to play the good cop, she would be good for that.” Lester added that Burwell has, and would continue, to work well with Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council.