Walmart Foundation exec to be Obama’s budget chief

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Monday nominated Walmart’s Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his next budget chief, citing her experience as a deputy in the Clinton administration.

If confirmed, Burwell would take the helm at the Office of Management and Budget at a time when the White House and Congress are at loggerheads over reducing the federal deficit.

“In the 1990s, Sylvia served under Jack Lew as deputy director of OMB – part of a team that presided over three budget surpluses in a row,” Obama said. Obama announced his picks to lead OMB, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy at an event held in the East Room of the White House.

“This is a serious group,” Obama quipped.

On stage with him were Burwell, Energy Secretary nominee Ernest Moniz and Gina McCarthy, his nominee for EPA chief. Burwell’s mother was seated in the audience, Obama noted.

Burwell, 47, has been president of the Walmart Foundation, the philanthropic wing of the retail giant based in Bentonville, Ark., since October 2011. Before that she was president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program.

The West Virginia native served in various positions in the Clinton administration during the 1990s including: OMB deputy secretary, deputy chief of staff to Clinton, chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and staff director for the National Economic Council.

“Sylvia knows her way around a budget,” Obama said. “But as the granddaughter of Greek immigrants, she also understands that our goal when we put together a budget is not just to make the numbers add up. Our goal is also to reignite the true engine of economic growth in this country, and that is a strong and growing middle class.”

Burwell would replace acting OMB director Jeffrey Zients pending confirmation by the Senate, which would begin in the Budget Committee. Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., issued a statement praising Burwell.

“Sylvia has dedicated much of her career to public service and philanthropy, and she clearly understands the impact of fiscal and budget decisions on the lives of families across the country,” Murray said. “She will step into a tough job at a critical moment, but I am confident she can handle the challenge I look forward to her testimony when she appears before the Budget Committee.”

Senate Republicans are likely to use her confirmation to hammer Obama on his budget policies – a tack hinted at in the statement put out by the ranking Republican member of the budget committee.

“We will fairly and thoughtfully evaluate this nomination,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R- Ala. “Sadly, under past leadership in this administration, the budget office has failed to be honest time and again. It is also deeply concerning that the White House has failed to submit its budget on time.”

Wal-Mart Stores President and CEO Mike Duke issued a statement congratulating Burwell on her nomination and praising her as a “strong leader” with a clear vision for making big things happen.

“Sylvia does a great job leading the Walmart Foundation, and if confirmed by the Senate, will do a tremendous job serving our country,” he said.

Arkansas senators indicated their support for Burwell’s confirmation.

“It’s evident that she’s highly qualified,” Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said, citing her work in the Clinton administration.

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said he was “pleased” with her nomination, citing her commitment to working for a balanced budget.

“Her past experiences are a hopeful sign that the administration is serious about getting our country on the path to financial responsibility,” Boozman said.