The debate on the Higginbottom nomination became a prime opportunity for the GOP to excoriate Obama for deficit spending. If Higginbottom becomes acting director or is nominated to replace Lew, she could once again become a lightning rod for the GOP.
To avoid that, the administration could turn to Jeffrey Zients, Lew’s deputy in charge of management. Zients served as acting OMB director from July to November of 2010. While Zients has a reputation as a competent manager, he does not have the experience of negotiating with Congress that Lew has.
Lew brought forth multiple budget surpluses by working with Republicans in Congress as OMB director during the Clinton presidency. His track record of success and bipartisanship inoculated him, to a certain extent, against GOP attacks.
Obama could also turn to Rob Nabors, a longtime budget wonk who served as deputy OMB director in the past and is now director of legislative affairs. Nabors, who previously worked for former Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), was involved in all the major budget negotiations with Congress last year.
Another choice could be Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling who has also spearheaded congressional talks.
OMB though says that there will be continuity no matter whom Obama eventually chooses.
"Jack will be staying at OMB to finish the 2013 budget. There is a very talented and committed senior team here at OMB. Whatever decision the President makes about who is to lead the agency, there will be a continuity of leadership at the highest levels," said Kenneth Baer, OMB communications director.
This story was updated at 4:13 p.m.