WASHINGTON – Former Rep. Jim Nussle, Bush' pick to lead the White House budget office, received Senate confirmation with a 69-24 vote, FOX News confirmed Tuesday.
Nussle is likely to find himself in the middle of a series of fights with the Democratic-controlled Congress.
Foremost among the challenges facing the Iowa Republican is a glut of unfinished spending bills. Other budget battles between the administration and congressional Democrats include extending farm subsidies and a popular health insurance program for the poor, and renewing more than 40 expiring tax cuts.
The Oct. 1 beginning of the 2008 budget year is looming, and the Senate has passed just one of 12 bills to fund the agency budgets that Congress is required to pass each year.
Veto threats hang over most of the bills and a long and contentious fall budget season is expected. It's commonly assumed that whichever bills are vetoed or not even passed by the Senate will be bundled into a multi-bill "omnibus" measure.
Some Democrats questioned whether Nussle — who gained a reputation as a partisan unpopular during eight terms in the House — is the right choice to be Bush's point man in budget talks with Democrats. At some point, it will take backroom talks to produce a deal on the unfinished appropriations bills.
But Bush has staked out a hard line in his public statements so far, vowing to veto spending bills that exceed his $933 billion "cap" on the one-third of the federal budget dished out by the appropriations committees each year. Democrats exceeded Bush's appropriations limits by about $23 billion in drawing up their budget plans.
However, the Senate on Tuesday took up a bill providing $64.7 billion in discretionary budget funding for veterans' programs and military base construction. Bush has not threatened to veto that bill — funding politically sacrosanct veterans medical programs — even though it's $4 billion higher than his request.
This fall's budget debate will also focus on renewing the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, which provides health insurance for children of the working poor. The program expires Sept. 30, and a wide gulf between Bush and Democrats over how much to expand the program.
Nussle chaired the House Budget Committee for six years, playing a roll in implementing Bush's tax cut agenda in 2001 and 2003.
Some Democrats such as Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., opposed Nussle's nomination to make a statement against Bush's fiscal record. When Bush came to office, both White House and congressional estimators predicted large budget surpluses for many years.
Those predictions were too optimistic. But Bush's tax cuts and huge spending after on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also played a big role in the return of deficits.
"I am voting against this nomination to send a signal — a signal to this administration that we cannot continue on this fiscal course," Conrad said. "The president has pursued a failed fiscal strategy for nearly seven years now. He has run up a record debt."
Bush has also come under criticism from fiscal conservatives in his own party on spending, but in fact he has had success in recent years in squeezing domestic agency budgets passed by Congress every year.
With Capitol Hill Republicans vowing to uphold Bush's vetoes, it's clear Democrats will have to scale back expectations to increase spending for education, grants to local governments and many more budget increases in the appropriations bills.
"The Democratic majority does not have (the votes) it needs to win on spending more taxpayer dollars," said White House budget office spokesman Sean Kevelighan.
"I think it would be to the advantage of the Congress and the president not to get into a situation where we have multiple appropriations vetoes," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "The best way to do it, it seems to me, would be to take the president's recommendation on the top line."
Nussle replaces former GOP Rep. Rob Portman, who left the job last month to return to Ohio.