Senate Republicans are bracing for the loss of Eric Ueland, one of their top procedural experts, at a time when they face the potentially formidable tasks of getting a budget resolution and tax overhaul passed in the Senate.
Ueland, who served as GOP staff director of the Senate Budget Committee for the past four years, is President Donald Trump’s nominee to be undersecretary for management at the State Department. The Portland, Oregon, native is awaiting a vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He stepped down to a senior adviser role on the Budget panel last month.
“I respect him,” said Bill Dauster, a Democratic budget and process expert. Dauster said Ueland is “one of the folks who gets to the 90th, 95th percentile of understanding procedural matters” while many others get by with 80 percent.
Ueland’s departure is a “big loss” for Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders, said Steve Bell, who served as Budget Committee staff director to New Mexico Republican Pete V. Domenici, who died last month.
Ueland “knew the budget intricacies, the procedures and all that very, very well,” said Bell, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “And I think he would be a big asset now that there is discussion of different kinds of baselines or different kinds of estimates and scoring.”
Enzi praised Ueland for being careful, precise and “dogged on behalf of his bosses and their goals” during a Senate Foreign Relations hearing on his nomination Sept. 12.
“A key to Eric’s value for me has been his interest in very carefully learning how a law or process actually works,” the Wyoming Republican said. “Examples include his facility with Senate rules and precedents and the Budget Act, our budget enforcement regime and the reconciliation process.”
Making the trains run on time
Assuming he wins Senate confirmation, Ueland has a major challenge ahead of him at the State Department. As undersecretary, he will be responsible for more than a dozen bureaus and offices including diplomatic security, consular affairs and building operations.
“In addition to making the trains run on time at the department, the undersecretary has the critical task of securing our people and families abroad,” Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said during the hearing. “This is never an easy undertaking, but it is particularly challenging now given the complexity of our current threat environment.”
Ueland earlier served as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and later worked as vice president of the Duberstein Group. Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, then ranking Republican on the Budget Committee and now U.S. attorney general, brought Ueland back to government in 2013 to be Budget Committee staff director.
Ueland advised the Trump transition team and was under consideration for both director of the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Legislative Affairs.
“We have gone head to head,” Dauster said about him and Ueland, noting their opposing posts in the Senate. Most recently, Dauster served as policy director for Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who sits on the Budget Committee, and before that as deputy chief of staff for policy for Harry Reid when he led Senate Democrats.
Dauster said Ueland, with his deep understanding of procedural options, “has given the Republican majority some more options than they would have had had he not been there, and would also know how to respond to circumstances that not everybody would.”
He sees a parallel of sorts between the post that Ueland has been nominated for and the experience of Jack Lew moving from the budget to foreign policy.
Lew served as OMB director under President Bill Clinton and later went to work for President Barack Obama as deputy secretary of State for management and resources. Lew later served as Obama’s OMB director, chief of staff and Treasury secretary.
Dauster said part of Ueland’s job description at State will be “making the agency work.”
“I think what will help him is he knows how budgets work and probably how the State Department budget works and can probably use that knowledge to his advantage,” Dauster said.