Landrieu Retains Block on Budget Director Nominee

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu said she plans to extend her hold on Jack Lew’s confirmation to lead the White House budget office until the administration lifts or modifies its moratorium on deep-water drilling.

President Barack Obama’s decision to halt exploration after BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico spill is causing more harm in her state than damage from the spill, Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, told reporters today in Washington. Landrieu said she met during the weekend with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and today with Michael Bromwich, director of the U.S. office that oversees offshore oil exploration.

“We’re making slight progress but not enough for me to change my position,” Landrieu said after testifying to a national commission investigating the spill. “I’m getting pushback but I didn’t expect they would be happy about it so I’m not surprised.”

Lew’s nomination was approved 22-1 last week by the Senate Budget Committee, clearing the way for a vote by the full chamber. The Senate lets lawmakers block action on presidential nominations, a power they sometimes wield to get concessions from the executive branch on unrelated issues.

Landrieu’s hold on the nomination comes at an inopportune time, said Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget. The administration is compiling a proposed budget for fiscal 2012 that Obama will send to Congress in February, he said.

“You want an OMB director in there, with sleeves rolled up, working day in and day out,” Baer said, “Right now, Jack Lew can’t do that.” Lew remains deputy secretary of state.

Lew, Orszag

Obama nominated Lew to replace Peter Orszag, who stepped down in July. Jeffrey Zients, OMB’s deputy director, is serving as acting director until Lew is confirmed.

The Obama administration halted drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet (152 meters) after BP’s Macondo well off the Louisiana coast blew out April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the biggest U.S. oil spill. The suspension is scheduled to expire Nov. 30.

Salazar may soon lift the ban, now that the measure has met some of its goals, the government said in court papers. Bromwich yesterday told the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling that he is reassigning staff to speed processing of drilling permits under new safety and environmental rules.

Landrieu and Republican Governor Bobby Jindal are among Louisiana officials who have urged an end to the ban. The administration also slowed permits in shallow waters not subject to the moratorium.

Seven Permits

Seven permits for shallow-water wells have been approved since new rules were issued in June, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management website. The fewest permits issued in a month last year was eight, Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Scott Angelle said at an Aug. 4 hearing in New Orleans.

“The oil spill made us sad, the moratorium makes us mad,” Angelle said today at the commission’s hearing. “There has not been one shred of evidence of a systemic failure, and yet we have a one-size fits all response from the government.”

“Oh yeah, we’re getting a lot of pushback,” Landrieu said. “They’re not happy with it but I said our people are not happy with the moratorium.”

Budget challenges are being compounded by the Nov. 2 elections, delays passing a federal budget for fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, a federal commission poised to make tax and spending recommendations on Dec. 1, a directive to most agencies to submit proposals for a 5 percent budget cut and an order to all agencies to identify the five poorest performing programs.

“Everyone’s doing as much as they can but at some point you really need an OMB director,” Baer said. He said administration officials, “including the White House,” are in contact with Landrieu and her staff, urging that Lew’s nomination be allowed to proceed to a Senate vote.

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