If Jim Nussle wants to be director of the Office of Management and Budget, he is going to have to get around Bernie Sanders, who announced yesterday that he will put a hold on Nussle's nomination to prevent it from coming to a vote in the Senate.
In the latest and perhaps most daring example yet of the politics of hope, Sanders said the hold will stay in place until the Bush administration starts talking sense about the economy.
The freshman senator from Vermont says he is so fed up with the propaganda coming out of the Bush White House that he intends to block the OMB nomination until the president acknowledges that the economy is hurting poor people.
"I am so sick and tired of the Bush Administration telling us how good and robust the economy is, when everyone knows that it's not true." Sanders told me this week. Yesterday, the Senate Budget Committee voted to send the Nussle nomination to the full Senate for consideration. Sanders was the only no vote.
"I want an OMB director who will educate the American people about the realities of the economy," Sanders said. "You have five million people who have slipped into poverty in the last six years, and yet we have a president who keeps telling us how robust the economy is."
The White House had hoped to have Nussle confirmed by the end of this week, but the Sanders hold -- a filibuster threat, in effect -- complicates that proposition. With the Senate on the verge of a month-long August recess, there may simply not be enough time for the Senate to deal with the problems besetting the nomination.
Nussle, who served 16 years as a congressman from Iowa, before losing a bid for governor last fall, is the former chairman of the House Budget Committee. On Thursday, the Senate Budget Committee on which Sanders sits voted to send the Nussle nomination to the full Senate, but that only draws the confrontation closer. "I want them to at least acknowledge that this economy is hurting a lot of people," Sanders said. "I think you have a president who is out of touch with reality in a lot of areas -- Iraq, global warming, but especially on the economy … The president's budget proposals to Congress have been disastrous for middle class and working people while providing hundreds of billions in tax breaks from millionaires and billionaires."
Sanders says what he wants is some assurances from the White House that they understand that working and middle class people are having an increasingly hard time in this economy. He points to the results of a poll, reported in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, which found that two thirds of all Americans think the economy is in recession or headed that way. This gut reaction may contradict some of the conventional economic indicators, but it accurately reflects the general pall that has descended on Americans.
This pervasive gloom has a lot to do with health care costs, the high price of gasoline, and the general instability in the job market. But it also seems to be closely related to the anger that many Americans feel about the war in Iraq.
Even though the committee voted overwhelmingly to send the nomination to the full Senate, the Sanders hold may not be the only obstacle facing Nussle. Committee chair Kent Conrad of North Dakota said there was at least one other hold being placed on the nomination. Asked to assess the chances that Nussle could be confirmed this week, Conrad shrugged, "I just don't know."
If the Senate fails to act on the nomination before the August recess, it could prompt the White House to name Nussle in a recess appointment that will allow him to serve through the end of the administration. The move will surely infuriate the Democratic leadership, but it may be the move of choice for a president who has increasingly little to lose.