Former Iowa Congressman Jim Nussle says he’ll be passionate about pursuing cuts in federal spending, but will try to find opportunities for consensus if confirmed to be President Bush’s budget director.
“I’m an optimist. I’m someone who likes to dive right in and tackle tough problems,” Nussle says. “I’m very interested on doing that on behalf of the president.”
Nussle must win support from a majority of U.S. Senators to be confirmed as director of the Office of Management and the Budget. Nussle testified this morning before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
“I’ll have to admit it. I’m a budget wonk. I love the budget, the budget process and everything…that goes along with it,” Nussle said. “But never in a million years as a 19-year-old college student at Luther in Decorah, Iowa, would I have thought I’d be sitting here today.”
Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, had Nussle directly address his dectractors. “You do have some critics who suggest that you’re simply too partisan for a job that requires extensive outreach to congress,” Collins told Nussle.
Nussle said that was a charge that could be leveled at anybody in congress at one time or another. “We break up into shirts versus skins, Republicans versus Democrats and we form these two teams and we do at each other,” Nussle said. “…The way I would like to be judged is not only how you battle each other on the floor and during debates like that…but it’s also how you conduct yourself behind closed doors.”
Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, defended Nussle as a “straight shooter” who is “superbly qualified” for the job.
“I’ve known Jim and I’ve worked with him — and against him — for 16 years…Never once can I think of any one time when Jim Nussle ever in my campaigns or others ever did anything untoward or underhanded or even bordering on the unethical,” Harkin told the committee. “He’s a tough campaigner, don’t get me wrong. He’s a tough guy, but you know where he’s coming from and he’s always above board.”
Nussle referred to Iowa’s other senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, as his political grandfather. “When he ran for the congress I backed him and considered him kind of a ‘Little Grassley,'” Grassley said. “…I think he has grown to be a very qualified public servant.”
Senator Joe Lieberman, an “Independent Democrat” from Connecticut, offered this observation. “I cannot help but comment that this “Little Grassley’ has grown to be a “Mighty Nussle,'” Lieberman said.
Lieberman quizzed Nussle about his infamous stunt of donning a paper bag for a speech on the House floor. Nussle was calling for unmasking the members of congress who’d bounced checks at the House Bank. “I should ask you, if confirmed, whether you pledge never to put a paper bag over your head again,” Lieberman said.
Nussle responded: “…I’ve always thought everyone is at least allowed one freshman mistake…I’m proud of the fact that it rooted out what was a bipartisan scandal…but I believe that I can safely commit to you, Mr. Chairman, that I will not be doing that.”
Lieberman told Nussle that was “very reassuring not just for the committee, but for the (Bush) administration.”
Nussle added that his family was probably relieved as well. Lieberman warned Nussle a time of “budget turmoil” is ahead and his job won’t be easy.
You can hear Nussle’s opening statement and the introductions he received from both of Iowa’s senators by clicking on the audio link below.