Robert Bluey

President Bush made no friends in liberal quarters when he told Congress to hold the line on spending or confront his veto pen. Now, with the top slot in Bush’s budget office newly vacant, congressional big spenders are threatening payback.

The man caught in the crosshairs is former Rep. Jim Nussle, who chaired the House Budget Committee from 2001 until leaving Congress last year. Nussle was Bush’s pick last month to replace Rob Portman as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Portman leaves next month to return to his home in Ohio.

What should be an uncontroversial Senate confirmation has turned into a battle between Democratic leaders and the White House over federal spending. The Democrats’ strategy is two-fold: They’re 1) painting Nussle as confrontational and uncooperative and 2) demanding that Bush relent on his veto threat if he wants Nussle confirmed. So far the White House has shown no sign of caving in to the demands.

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) fired the first shots at Nussle, criticizing the pick immediately after Bush announced the nomination on June 19. Following a meeting with Nussle one week later, Conrad issued a statement citing “very real concerns about his nomination.” The normally low-key Conrad claimed that Nussle had a “reputation for confrontation” and questioned whether he would be committed to “bipartisan cooperation.”

Democratic leaders in the House apparently got the same talking points. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) had this to say about Nussle’s tenure in Congress: “He was known much more for confrontation and pressing for a Republican fiscal agenda, which I was not in favor of.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democrat Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) share those views.

Robert Bluey

Robert B. Bluey is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation and maintains a blog at