WH looks outside for new budget chief

The White House is said to be mulling outside candidates to replace Sylvia Mathews Burwell once she resigns as budget director to take over the Department of Health and Human Services.

Budget experts and insiders say no one inside the administration appears to be an automatic pick. Burwell will stay in her current role while she awaits confirmation.

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Brian Deese is the well-liked deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, but sources said, at 36, he might be too young and inexperienced to permanently take over the Cabinet-level job, which also oversees the promulgation of regulations and management of federal agencies.  

Deese’s talents have largely been showcased behind the scenes so far, and the budget director job will involve dealing with hostile congressional Republicans eager to attack President Obama’s fiscal record.  

The new director will also have to deal with raising the debt ceiling in March 2015. If the GOP takes the Senate, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) will have a much stronger hand in negotiations.

A GOP Senate would also further complicate what looms as a major battle over fiscal 2016 appropriations once the current two-year budget deal covering spending is over.

A few other names are being banded about as possible Burwell successors.

Inside the administration, two names stand out.

White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors is seen as a natural candidate. He’s well liked and known on Capitol Hill and is a veteran of past budget talks. He also knows OMB, where he served as a deputy director.

Sources close to the situation, however, say Nabors is looking to leave government.

Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman is also seen as a talented public face for the administration’s priorities and has been seen as interested in the job in the past.

But sources said he is happy heading the economic council.

Outside the administration, two House Democrats are seen as plausible choices. But both would have to give up congressional power to take the OMB job.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has made budget issues a signature cause.

But he’s always wanted to be the Speaker of the House, and he does not appear ready to throw in the towel on House leadership.

Similarly, Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has been an impassioned advocate for party budget priorities, but is seen as a possible candidate for House Speaker or the Senate.

Some speculate, however, that Van Hollen might eventually want to run to be Maryland’s governor. In that case, executive experience at the OMB would be a plus, one source said.

Other candidates mentioned among budget experts are Center for Budget and Policy Priorities head Bob Greenstein, perhaps the leading liberal fiscal policy expert in Washington, and Bruce Reed, the former adviser to Joe Biden who was staff director of the Simpson-Bowles debt commission. 

In an email to The Hill, Greenstein wrote that he is happy where he is and committed to his think tank.

A source close to Reed said he is happy in California.  

"It’s one of the most challenging jobs there is," said former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad. "I’m a big Sylvia Burwell fan. There is no obvious person, I don’t think."

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