House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer yesterday predicted that the battle with the Bush administration over spending will escalate with the White House's selection of a former Republican lawmaker to head its budget office.
Mr. Hoyer said former Iowa Rep. Jim Nussle, who President Bush last week nominated to run the Office of Management and Budget, was not known for bipartisanship.
"He was known much more for confrontation and pressing for a Republican fiscal agenda, which I was not in favor of," the Maryland Democrat said.
Mr. Hoyer said Democrats had a good working relationship with outgoing OMB Director Rob Portman, but he doesn't expect that to continue with Mr. Nussle.
"I do not think it bodes well for moving the American public agenda forward by replacing Mr. Portman ... who we did in fact work together with in a bipartisan fashion," he said. "If the past is prologue, then the future doesn't look bright for agreement. And a number of people have said that."
Mr. Hoyer's comments follow Mr. Bush's threat to veto up to nine of the 12 annual appropriations bills for exceeding spending limits he gave the Democrat-led Congress. Republicans and conservatives say Mr. Bush must hold the line on spending as they try to reclaim the mantle of fiscal responsibility heading into the presidential elections.
Mr. Bush described Mr. Nussle, who still faces a Senate confirmation hearing, as "a strong advocate for fiscal discipline" when nominating him for the post that oversees the president's annual budget.
"We're very encouraged by the positive reception and tone of the meetings Mr. Nussle has been doing so far on the Senate side," said OMB spokesman Sean Kevelighan. "John Spratt, the man he worked most with in the House, has even offered to testify on his behalf."
Mr. Spratt, South Carolina Democrat, is chairman of the House Budget Committee. His office did not return calls seeking comment.
Mr. Nussle was an eight-term congressman before pursuing a bid for Iowa's governorship in 2006. He was defeated by Democrat Chet Culver, a two-term secretary of state and the son of a former senator.
Despite his reputation as a fiscal conservative, Mr. Nussle has been criticized by the Club for Growth, a group opposed to increased taxes and federal spending, which described Mr. Nussle's record as being "hostile" to taxpayers, for not supporting certain anti-spending measures.
Iowa Democrats were also quick to criticize the nomination last week.
"We never knew that supporting trillions of dollars in pork-barrel projects, personally ensuring funding for 'Bridges to Nowhere' and being singled out for 'hostility to taxpayers' qualified someone to be White House budget director," said Carrie Giddins, communication director of the Iowa Democratic Party.
But Brian Riedl, the conservative Heritage Foundation's federal spending specialist, said Mr. Nussle has fiscally conservative instincts.
"He often spent more than conservatives would like, but those budgets were a reflection of what the Republican leadership at the time was asking for," said Mr. Riedl.
Mr. Riedl said that Republicans are "slowly getting their sea legs back" on fiscal issues and that Mr. Nussle is a "very good candidate" to promote those policies.