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GOP support for Biden’s deputy budget director pick falters

Republicans critique Shalanda Young's support for ending decades-old abortion funding restrictions

Shalanda Young, nominee to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, testifies during her confirmation hearing March 2 before the Senate Budget Committee.
Shalanda Young, nominee to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, testifies during her confirmation hearing March 2 before the Senate Budget Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Two Senate panels advanced President Joe Biden’s pick for deputy White House budget director on Wednesday, but not without some unexpected partisan fireworks.

Eight out of 11 Republicans on the Senate Budget panel and all seven Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Republicans voted “no” on reporting out the nomination of Shalanda Young to be deputy Office of Management and Budget director.

The somewhat surprising reversal from the bipartisan accolades Young has won thus far stems from written answers Young gave to GOP questions about her position on removing the Hyde amendment from federal law. The 45-year old provision, named for former Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., prohibits federal funding for abortions with limited exceptions for rape, incest or the woman’s life.

“I had planned to support Ms. Young based on her testimony before the committee,” the top Homeland Security panel Republican, Ohio’s Rob Portman, said at his committee’s markup. “In reviewing her answers to the committee’s questions for the record, though, I’ve got to say I was really troubled by her responses, particularly her strong advocacy for eliminating the Hyde amendment.”

The Homeland panel voted 7-6 along party lines to report Young’s nomination to the floor. A seventh Republican on that committee, Rand Paul of Kentucky, voted “no” by proxy, which didn’t count under the panel’s rules.

Senate Budget voted 14-8 later in the day, with just three Republicans — ranking member Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota — backing Young. Cramer’s vote was by proxy, which Budget allows.

Graham previously was effusive about his support for Young, saying at her confirmation hearing he’d back her for the top job at OMB as well. But he tempered his comments Wednesday based on Young’s Hyde amendment position, which Graham said was “troubling to many of our members.”

Graham said he wanted assurances from Young that she wouldn’t support any regulation that “changes Hyde or chips away at it.”

The White House has said Young will be tapped as acting director of OMB once confirmed as deputy; in addition to developing and implementing the administration’s budget, OMB also has to sign off on all agency rulemakings. Graham said he wanted Young to confirm that the “statutory provision will prevail” before supporting her on the floor.

“I’m going to vote ‘yes,’ Mr. Chairman, with that understanding,” Graham said at the committee markup Wednesday. “And if she doesn’t give the right answer I may change [my mind].”

Democrats say they’ll try to remove the Hyde amendment from the annual Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill later this year. Democrats also didn’t include explicit Hyde restrictions on federal health care funds in the nearly $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that cleared Congress today, infuriating some Republicans.

“This is not esoteric anymore,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said at the Homeland Security panel markup. “This week, what the House is voting on today, what the Senate passed on Saturday morning will be the first time in 44 years we as a country have used federal tax dollars to pay for abortion.”

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., said he didn’t understand how his GOP colleagues could object to a candidate they had said was qualified. Peters pointed out that Young had said in testimony before the committee and in her written responses to questions that she would follow the laws Congress approves, regardless of her personal views.

“In her written responses, Ms. Young stated that ending the Hyde amendment is a matter of economic and racial justice because its impact is felt most among low-income women of color. This is simply a statement of fact,” Peters said. “But she also confirmed that she will follow current law, which includes the Hyde amendment. So I have a hard time following the objections of my Republican colleagues.”

Young, a House Appropriations Committee staffer since 2007, is well-known and respected on both sides of the aisle and had been considered a lock for confirmation. 

While Young has been nominated for the No. 2 job at OMB, there’s a vacancy at the top that she’s set to fill. Biden’s original nominee for OMB director, Neera Tanden, dropped out of the running when it became clear she didn’t have the votes for confirmation.

Tanden withdrew her nomination in early March amid concerns from moderate Democrats that she wouldn’t be an effective voice for the Biden administration given controversy surrounding her open criticism of Republicans. GOP senators had expressed near-uniform opposition to Tanden, though Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski met with Tanden to hear her out and discuss priorities important to Murkowski’s constituents.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III’s opposition to Tanden was a strong signal that her nomination was in trouble. Eventually, both the Homeland Security and Budget panels postponed their committee votes on Tanden before she bowed out of the confirmation process, a sign there was more Democratic opposition than just Manchin.

A warm reception so far

Young’s reception thus far has been significantly different than Tanden’s.

In addition to Graham, Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., has said he supports Young’s confirmation.

The top three Democratic leaders in the House, the Congressional Black Caucus and the New Democrat Coalition have all sent letters to the White House urging Biden to nominate Young for the OMB director role. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden has yet to decide whom he will nominate for OMB director, but noted that Young will hold a central role in the administration even if she isn’t nominated for the top slot.

“He thinks so highly of her that he nominated her to serve as deputy director of OMB, which is an enormous job in the administration,” Psaki said. “And once she is confirmed she will serve as acting director of OMB.”

Psaki also said Tanden will become part of the administration.

“The president is committed to her serving in a role in the administration because he values her perspective and her experience,” Psaki said. 

Caroline Simon contributed to this report.

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