Portman, who has served as budget director for just over a year, said he was leaving to spend more time with his family. He plans to remain at his post through July, while the Senate takes up Nussle's nomination. Portman, who left Congress in 2005 to become U.S. Trade Representative and moved to the budget job last year, will return home to Cincinnati.
An OMB spokesman said Portman has his eye on a run for statewide office, either in 2010 or 2012. Democratic Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's term is up in 2010 and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown's term ends in 2012. Portman has not entertained offers about his immediate future, aiming to avoid potential conflicts of interest as he winds up his job.
If the timing works, Nussle would be able to start from scratch with the fiscal 2009 budget process, an OMB spokesman said. A White House official said Bush has known about Portman's desire to leave for months and was able to take his time recruiting a replacement. The aide noted the importance of Nussle's experience with the budget, indicating it was vital in an administration with little time left that the new budget chief be able to hit the ground running.
Portman was known for reaching across party lines, a trait that Democrats said they would miss. Nussle, who left Congress in 2006 and made an unsuccessful run for governor of Iowa last year, was serving as Iowa coordinator for GOP presidential aspirant Rudy Giuliani.
"Rob was terribly, terribly easy to work with," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "He's a gentleman and I'm going to miss him."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., added that Portman was an individual of "keen intellect and a responsible legislator." At the same time, Hoyer took a shot at Nussle's tenure as chairman of the House Budget Committee from 2001-06. "In the history of our country, Congress from 2001 to 2006 pursued the most fiscally irresponsible policies," he said.
Rep. James Moran, D-Va., noting Nussle's penchant for partisanship when he was in the House, said there was a "collective groan" at Tuesday's Democratic Caucus meeting when lawmakers heard the news. "Jim's long going to be remembered as the member with the bag over his head," Moran said, referring to the time Nussle -- as a then-junior member of Congress -- used the prop on the floor to protest the House banking scandal.
But House Budget Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C., who was ranking member to Nussle when Republicans controlled the House, praised the president's choice. "I would expect the transition to be seamless," he said. "Jim Nussle is well-versed in the budget and knows the principles of the Congress well, so I think he'll do well."
Andy Leonatti contributed to this report.