Budget panel might vote early on OMB nominee

Senate Budget Commmittee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Wednesday that the panel could vote on Jacob Lew, President Obama's nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, as soon as Thursday.

Conrad said that he had asked committee members to waive a panel rule that requires 48 hours' notice for a vote. He said that he and Senate Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg, R-N.H., had agreed to waive it, "but every member of the committee has to agree to that."

Committee action on Lew's nomination would clear they way for consideration by the full Senate, which Conrad hopes will happen before Congress adjourns, probably after next week, for the midterm elections.

Lew's nomination was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday.

Lew led the OMB under President Clinton. The budget showed a surplus for three consecutive years during his tenure. From 1998 to 2001, he led the Clinton administration budget team and served as a member of the National Security Council. Lew most recently was with the State Department, where he served as deputy secretary of State for management and resources.

In another matter, Conrad said he backed passing a hiring tax credit to give incentives to companies to bring on new employees and reduce unemployment. Conrad cited the CBO, which has said that "after an extension of unemployment [insurance], the biggest bang for the buck ... is that one."

He also said that a law enacted in March to boost hiring was insufficient. The law exempts private-sector employers who hire a worker who has been unemployed for at least 60 days from having to pay the employer's 6.2 percent share of the Social Security payroll tax on that employee for the remainder of 2010.

A company could save a maximum of $6,621 if it hired an unemployed worker and paid that worker at least $106,800 -- the maximum amount of wages subject to Social Security taxes -- by the end of the year.

"It wasn't strong enough," Conrad said.

His comments came after a hearing on the federal response to the economic downturn, where Princeton University economist Alan Blinder recommended that Congress pass a broader version of the law.

Moody's Analytics chief cconomist, Mark Zandi, also said he would endorse a payroll tax holiday targeted to companies that hire "if we get into early next year and the recovery is not engaging."

He said the current law was insufficient. "It was too small, too restrictive, is not working," he said. "It could be quite effective if we did it in a better way."

Zandi - an economic adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during his 2008 run for president and more recently Congressional Democrats - also recommended extending all of the Bush-era tax cuts. Democrats want to extend the 2001 and 2003 income-tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 and individuals below $200,000, letting them expire for those with higher incomes.

"I wouldn't raise taxes in 2011," Zandi said. "The recovery is just too fragile."

Zandi and Blinder said government measures taken to combat the economic downturn, including the stimulus, had saved 8.5 million jobs.

But Stanford economist John B. Taylor said the stimulus and other actions, including "cash-for-clunkers," which provided incentives to consumers to trade in cars for more fuel-efficient models, "weakened the economy and left it with the burdens of increased debt and higher government spending as well as concerns about future tax increases."

Taylor recommended that Congress commit to keep income tax rates where they are.

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