GOP's secret hold puts Obama's Higginbottom nomination in trouble

Heather Higginbottom’s nomination to be President Obama’s deputy budget director is in deep trouble after the GOP placed a hold on it, Democrat aides said Friday.

Because of the secret hold, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cannot move the nomination to the floor for a vote under unanimous consent.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, views Higginbottom as entirely unqualified for the position. Democrat aides point to Sessions as a source of the hold, but his office would not confirm that Friday.

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“A lot of Republicans have a problem with this one, it’s not going anywhere,” one aide said.

Because of the delay, Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew has had to operate without a full team in place during the extremely difficult negotiations over spending.

Former deputy Rob Nabors in January became Obama’s director of legislative affairs. He has been assisting Lew in the bipartisan budget talks with six lawmakers led by Vice President Joe Biden.

The Higginbottom nomination has become a casualty of the wider budget fight and is being used by the GOP to attack Obama’s approach to spending.

An aide said that Democrats will have a hard time defending a vote for the nominee, who in testimony defended the Obama 2012 budget. The president himself has disavowed that budget and is now seeking deeper cuts, the aide said.

The 2012 Obama budget would trim about $1 trillion from the deficit over ten years, and in April Obama in a speech called for $4 trillion in cuts over 12 years.

The Senate Budget Committee approved the nomination on a party line vote on April 5.

“Given the tremendous fiscal and economic challenges facing the nation, it is critical that the President has his complete budget team in place.  I hope the full Senate moves quickly to schedule a vote on this nomination,” Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said at the time.

Conrad said Lew deserves to have his handpicked deputy in place.

Higginbottom has served as deputy director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, and worked on Obama’s presidential campaign.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved her nomination along party lines by a 6-4 vote on March 16.

Committee ranking member Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) opposed the nomination and has expressed doubt about Higginbottom due to her lack of budget experience.

An aide said that Collins has not placed a hold on the nomination.