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Mr. Lew would replace Peter R. Orszag, who is leaving as budget director at the end of this month. The White House said Mr. Lew’s paperwork would not be completed in time for him to take over before Congress leaves for its August recess.

Mr. Lew currently serves as a deputy secretary of state. To become OMB director will require Senate confirmation. The last time he won the job, in 1998, the Senate confirmed him by voice vote.

Republicans are likely to use Mr. Lew’s nomination as a chance to attack the Obama fiscal record. The deficit for 2009, which included nearly nine months under Mr. Obama and more than three under President Bush, set a record for the most red ink in history, and this year’s total is likely to come close.

In tapping Mr. Lew, Mr. Obama is hoping to recapture some of the magic of the late 1990s when Republicans in Congress worked with Mr. Clinton to strike a balanced budget deal in 1997, then followed through, producing three straight budgets in balance.

“When Jack walked out of the Office of Management and Budget in 2000, there was a $237 billion surplus. I think that’s the type of experience that the president was looking for,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

In 2000, Mr. Lew was a key voice late in the Clinton administration warning against assuming large surpluses for the sake of writing bigger tax cuts - a policy President George W. Bush pursued, and which has since become a heated debating point.

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Lew’s nomination set off another round of debate over which party has been less fiscally responsible.

Democrats, who control both chambers, have failed to pass a budget this year, though House Democrats pushed through spending caps designed to provide one-year guidance.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said that was a sad substitute for the real thing.

“The American people know that in tough times a budget is more important - not less,” Mr. Boehner said. “Congress‘ failure to pass a budget means we’re missing an opportunity to cut spending now and provide the fiscal discipline that economists say is needed to create jobs and grow the economy.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, acknowledged they could not pass a full budget this year, but defended the one-year targets as a valuable restraint on spending.

“For anybody to pretend that we haven’t taken action on a budget is incorrect,” he said, pointing out that the one-year targets have “the same consequence as a budget would have had.”