Senate leader says there are no guarantees for OMB nominee

Full Senate is unlikely to consider Jim Nussle before August recess, senior aide says.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Wednesday indicated the Senate might not confirm former Rep. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, to be Office of Management and Budget director.

"We were very clear with the president. There's not a guarantee that we'll get him confirmed," Reid said after a meeting Wednesday between President Bush and the bipartisan congressional leadership.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel approved Nussle Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 9-0, with one member voting "present." But a senior Democratic Senate aide said that while the Budget Committee will consider the nomination Thursday, it is unlikely to be brought to the floor before Congress begins its August recess.

With OMB chief Rob Portman's last day in office scheduled for Friday, Congress appears set to return for the fall budget battle to deal with an administration without a confirmed OMB director. A senior White House official Wednesday said he was not aware of any discussion about a possible recess appointment for Nussle. While the official did not rule out such a move, he said Bush wants Congress to do the job of confirming Nussle.

According to participants in the meeting, Bush refused to move off his demand for a discretionary domestic spending limit of $933 billion. Democrats want to spend about $22 billion more.

A source privy to the discussions said Democratic leaders held out the prospect of a deal if the number was closer to their top line than his. "Democrats argued for the president to meet them somewhere north of the middle on their spending figure," said the source. "Bush said no. He held firm to his numbers."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., afterward threatened to meet Bush's demand by slashing his proposals. "At the end of the day, if we honor the president's number, we may not be able to accommodate his priorities, and then he may have a different thought about it," she told reporters.

Reid argued that "a number of things have come up" since Bush proposed his budget, including border security spending needs and the recommendation of the Dole-Shalala commission on veterans' health care, which he said would cost about $1 billion to implement.

All sides agreed that it would be best for each appropriations bill to be considered separately. "We're better off doing one bill at a time and negotiating on those bills rather than having this umbrella threat of vetoing everything," Reid said.

But, while the White House and Republicans are willing to talk individual bills, Bush continues to threaten to veto individual bills if they point toward a breach of his spending limit. Democrats emphasized that the funding difference as a percentage of the budget was small.

"We don't want to get into a big bog at the end of this session," said Reid. "It's clear that as we get into the fall, we're going to have a big problem," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Pelosi said the House intended to complete both the Agriculture and Defense appropriations bills this week.