Given her history of pushing cuts to Social Security, disparaging Medicare for All and other popular ideas, and raising money from massive corporations, progressives were not exactly saddened to learn that Neera Tanden's nomination to lead the White House budget office is on the verge of collapse after Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and two swing Republicans announced they will oppose her confirmation.
Tanden's chances of becoming director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) were thrown into serious doubt late last week when Manchin—an opponent of progressive causes who supported several of former President Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees, including former Attorney General Bill Barr—said he would vote against Tanden, citing "overtly partisan statements" she has made in the past.
On Monday, after President Joe Biden expressed confidence that he could find the votes to get Tanden through the Senate and said he had no intention of pulling her nomination, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah.) both announced that they too would vote no, further imperiling Tanden's already slim chances of reaching the simple-majority threshold required for confirmation.
"Without Romney or Collins supporting her nomination, it's increasingly unlikely that Tanden will be confirmed," Politico reported Monday. "Tanden would be the first Biden cabinet nominee to fail."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki signaled Monday morning that despite the rapidly dwindling odds of Senate approval, the Biden team is not yet ready to withdraw Tanden's nomination. On Twitter, Psaki said Tanden is an "accomplished policy expert, would be the first Asian American woman to lead OMB, [and] has lived experience having benefited from a number of federal programs as a kid."
Progressives—who oppose Tanden's nomination for different reasons than Manchin, Collins, and Romney—were not impressed with Psaki's case:
Yes, Tanden has the "lived experience" of "having benefitted from a number of federal programs as a kid." And she has the "lived experience" of advocating cutting these programs as an adult. THAT, not her mean tweets to Republicans, disqualifies her. https://t.co/XwSwXnSDYj
— Katie Halper (@kthalps) February 22, 2021
The program she benefited from as a kid was the one she also went on to help dismantle while working in the white house. She has no real accomplishments not policy expertise. Her role for the last decade has been raising money from Clinton circles. https://t.co/fHwMoPqlhC
— Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) February 22, 2021
Jeff Cohen, co-founder of progressive advocacy group RootsAction—which has been urging the Senate to reject Tanden's nomination since it was officially announced in December—said in a statement Monday that "consummate fundraiser Neera Tanden is a prime symbol of corporatism within a party that once fought for working-class interests."
"For decades, Democratic Party leaders and top advisers have wallowed in donations from the super-rich while moving the party toward policies that have shifted wealth and income from working-class people to elites," said Cohen. "We call on the Biden administration to nominate someone who will put the public interest ahead of corporate interests when it comes to overseeing federal budgetary and regulatory policies."
Currently president and CEO of the Center for American Progress (CAP)—an influential Democratic-aligned think tank—Tanden previously worked in the Bill Clinton White House under then-chief domestic policy adviser Bruce Reed, a key architect of the disastrous 1996 welfare reform law that fueled an explosion of deep poverty. In 2016, Reed told The Intercept that Tanden was "obviously involved in the implementation" of welfare reform—an account Tanden denied.
After Biden decided in late November to nominate Tanden to head OMB amid a pandemic-driven economic collapse, progressives pointed to the CAP president's comments in support of cuts to Social Security and Medicare during a C-SPAN interview in 2012.
"We should have savings on entitlements, and the Center for American Progress has put forward ideas on proposals to reform the beneficiary structure of Social Security—some of our progressive allies aren't as excited about that as we are," Tanden said at the time. "But we've put those ideas on the table."
During the second of her two confirmation hearings earlier this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a frequent target of Tanden's past rhetoric—raised concerns about the OMB nominee's "vicious attacks" on progressives as well as her record of raising money from such corporate giants as Walmart, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America.
Sanders has not said he how he intends to vote on Tanden.
"I happen to believe that big money interests have an undue influence over the economic and political life of our country," Sanders said during the February 10 hearing. "That, too often, campaign contributions are what determine policy rather than needs of ordinary Americans."
It is unclear who's next in line for the OMB role should Tanden fail to get past the Senate. The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner reported last week that one possible alternative is Gene Sperling, who most recently served as director of the National Economic Council under former President Barack Obama.
"Sperling has become more of a progressive since leaving office," Kuttner argued. "His 2020 book, Economic Dignity, helps offset some youthful indiscretions of the Clinton years such as his work on the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. Most progressives would applaud, but he is just orthodox enough to win easy confirmation. He'd round out a progressive senior economic team."
Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), told Kuttner that "Gene's views have genuinely evolved from when he was in the Clinton administration."
"While I would not have wanted the Gene Sperling of 25 years ago to hold a top position in the Biden administration," Baker said, "I think the Gene Sperling of today would be an outstanding pick as head of OMB."