WASHINGTON – Rob Portman won Senate confirmation as director of the White House budget office Friday, moving over from his post as U.S. trade representative.
Portman, a former GOP congressman from Cincinnati, replaces White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
The 50-year-old Portman left a career on the House GOP leadership track to join the administration about a year ago, and he promptly helped win House passage of the controversial CAFTA accord by the narrowest of margins.
He was confirmed as OMB chief by a voice vote without opposition.
Now, the easygoing Portman takes on the challenge of devising the administration's annual budget submission and defending it in Congress. He's expected to serve as a liaison between the White House and the GOP leadership in Congress.
When Portman was a member of Congress, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., chose him to run the weekly meetings of House GOP leaders and he was among the most popular members of the House GOP caucus.
"People know him. They trust him," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
Lawmakers are struggling with the Bush budget blueprint. Congress is not expected to adopt a final House-Senate budget resolution and both House and Senate are moving to ease Bush's tight curbs on domestic agency budgets by transferring funds from the Pentagon and foreign aid budgets in the annual appropriations bills.
Portman's first task will be to supervise negotiations on a huge supplemental spending bill for the war in Iraq and hurricane relief. The Pentagon is feeling the pinch and Republicans promise to clear the bill for Bush the week of June 5 after Congress returns from its annual Memorial Day recess.
The White House has promised to veto any bill exceeding $92.2 billion, plus $2.3 billion to combat avian flu, and the demands have complicated negotiations since the Senate passed a bill totaling almost $109 billion.
At the same time, a surge in revenue due to the strong economy is improving the deficit picture, at least relative to the White House's February prediction of a record $423 billion in red ink. Now, the Congressional Budget Office says the deficit could dip only to $300 billion.
Portman is a longtime Bush loyalist. Fresh out of Dartmouth College, he cut his political teeth on the 1980 campaign of President Bush's father.