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The Nation

Bush's budget director resigns

In another White House change, Jim Nussle is chosen to replace Rob Portman.

June 20, 2007|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — White House Budget Director Rob Portman resigned Tuesday, forcing President Bush to shuffle key assignments again as he seeks to assemble a team to close out his administration.

Bush named Jim Nussle, a former chairman of the House Budget Committee, to replace Portman.

In seven terms as a congressman and during his 14-month tenure as director of the Office of Management and Budget, Portman developed a reputation as a deficit hawk and expert on the complexities of the $2.9-trillion federal budget.

Nussle, 46, a Republican who represented Iowa in the House for 16 years, has been better known for his strict adherence to conservative budget priorities.

"As OMB director, he will use his expertise about the budget process to ensure that the taxpayers' money is spent with respect and with restraint," Bush said as Nussle and Portman stood at his side.

The shift comes less than a week after Bush announced that Ed Gillespie, a lobbyist and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, was joining his staff as a White House counselor, replacing longtime aide Dan Bartlett.

Portman's departure and Nussle's arrival will have ramifications beyond those in the budget director's suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the West Wing.

The job, which requires Senate confirmation, goes beyond the nuts and bolts of assembling the budget. It carries responsibility, Bush noted, for implementing defense programs, energy initiatives and tax policies, and, by having a major effect on spending decisions, affects the entire scope of government policy and activities.

Portman, 51, joked that although his title was director of the Office of Management and Budget, "other titles sometimes came my way: Dr. No. Tightwad. Budget hawk. Penny-pincher. And some not suitable for a television audience."

Portman, who said he wanted to spend more time with his family in Ohio after more than 14 years in public service, is leaving as Congress works through individual appropriations bills and the government begins to assemble the fiscal 2009 budget to be sent to Congress in February.

Nussle left Congress last year for what turned out to be an unsuccessful race for governor. He recently joined former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination as his top advisor in Iowa.

Because the 2010 budget will be submitted by the president who is sworn into office on Jan. 20, 2009, Nussle will have a limited time to leave his mark on the federal spending plan.

Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that advocates reducing the federal deficit, described Nussle, like Portman, as "pretty orthodox when it comes to Republican budget policy," but added that he had pushed for greater efforts than some party leaders to overhaul mandatory spending on "entitlement programs" like Social Security and Medicare.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan budget watchdog group, said that Nussle had developed a good relationship with Democrats on his committee but that he would need to "expand his reach to maintain the good working relationship that Portman had" with a broader range of Democrats.

In a written statement, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, praised Portman as "a person of credibility and decency that commanded respect on both sides of the aisle."

But he made no mention of Nussle, who headed the House Budget Committee during a period of intense partisanship.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow raised the prospect that Portman might resume his political career in Ohio, where the GOP lost a Senate seat and governorship in November. Portman has said that running for governor in 2010 is a possibility.

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james.gerstenzang@ latimes.com

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