By Sam Youngman
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget appeared Wednesday to be on a clear path toward Senate confirmation.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a former official in the administration of President Bill Clinton and until recently head of Wal-Mart Stores' philanthropic wing, sailed through committee votes without Republican opposition on Wednesday, virtually assuring her confirmation as the next head of OMB.
The president nominated Burwell in early March, and she sat for her Senate confirmation hearings last week.
Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington state, chairwoman of the budget committee, released a statement shortly after the committee vote on Wednesday applauding the "strong bipartisan support" for Burwell's confirmation.
"I am confident she is going to do a great job at OMB working to boost the economy and tackle our deficit and debt in a balanced way," Murray said. "And I am looking forward to the full Senate approving her nomination as quickly as possible."
If Burwell proceeds through confirmation of the full Senate, she will take over the office that crafts the administration's spending policies and acts as a key negotiator in budget disputes with Republicans in the U.S. Congress.
While Obama has faced a number of bruising confirmation battles over his executive branch selections, Burwell cleared both the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Budget Committee by a voice vote, winning praise from some Republicans along the way.
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the highest-ranking Republican member of the budget committee and a longtime critic of OMB and Obama's budget policies, offered kind words for the president's nominee.
"She's a very delightful person, able," Sessions said. "Perhaps at a time of fiscal crisis, it's the toughest job in Washington."
Burwell's nomination will now face a full Senate vote, which appears to be a foregone conclusion.
Burwell would replace acting director Jeffrey Zients, who stepped in after Obama tapped former OMB Director Jack Lew to be his White House chief of staff.
As head of the Wal-Mart Foundation, Burwell oversaw the distribution of nearly $1 billion in corporate contributions to projects around the world such as fighting hunger and empowering women in 2011.
Burwell was deputy OMB director under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
(Reporting by Sam Youngman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)