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Bush nominates former congressman for budget director post
Rob Portman, a former congressman, may help to improve White House relations with Congress.


Rob Portman
George W. Bush
Office of Management and Budget

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a move in part meant to ease tensions between the White House and Congress, President Bush has nominated former Republican lawmaker Rob Portman to be budget director.

"The American people deserve results for every hard-earned dollar they send to Washington," President Bush said in the Rose Garden. "The job of [Office of Management and Budget] director is a really important post, and Rob Portman is the right man to take it on.

Bush added, "Rob's a man of deep integrity. He knows the priorities of my administration. He can get things done, and the Senate should confirm him promptly as director of the Office of Management and Budget."

Should he be confirmed by the Senate, Portman, the current U.S. trade representative, will take the place of Josh Bolten, the new White House chief of staff who suggested his replacement.

"Josh has got all the rights to make those recommendations to me and of course I listen to advice as to my Cabinet as well," Bush said. "I must tell you that I've got strong confidence in my Cabinet officials, all of them, and I appreciate the service they've rendered."

Portman, who served Ohio in Congress from 1993 to 2005, said, "I'm excited about this new opportunity to help shape the government and our economy."

He praised the economy and said it was important to work with Congress to shape the budget.

"Now is not the time to risk losing ground by raising taxes," he said. "Instead we must continue pro-growth policies and tighten our fiscal belts in order to cut the deficit in half by 2009."

The Bush administration's 2007 fiscal year budget stalled in Congress earlier this month when a House measure failed due to squabbling between conservative and moderate Republicans. Lawmakers return from a two-week break next week.

GOP leaders plan to bring the budget resolution back to the House floor but have not committed to when that will occur. It still unclear if they can get a deal that fiscal conservatives and appropriators will support.

Disagreements over budget priorities have also strained relations between Congress and the White House. Portman's previous experience as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax law, and as vice chairman of the Budget Committee is expected to smooth negotiations with Capitol Hill.

"This is a significant step in the right direction towards healing the divide between the administration and the Congress given the fact that Portman understands the process," a Senate Republican leadership aide told CNN.

In an early sign of Portman's outreach to restless Republicans, he placed a phone call Monday night to House Speaker Dennis Hastert to alert the Illinois Republican to the impending nomination, a knowledgeable Republican source said.

Portman was told it would be difficult to reach Hastert, who was returning to the United States from Vietnam on official business, but Portman insisted it was critical that he reach the speaker and the duo eventually connected.

"Rob is a true friend and the White House is fortunate to have such a strong leader and effective communicator," Hastert said Tuesday, according to a new release.

Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, one of the Democrat's leading voice focuses on budget matters, praised Portman both personally and professional but said the administration needed to change its budget polices that have produced "an outlook of red ink for as far as the eye can see."

"More than a new OMB director, the country needs a new economic policy -- one that stops the build up of trillions of dollars of debt," Conrad said. "It is time we start paying our bills, and not passing them on to our children and grandchildren."

Bush's announcement comes on the heels of a staff meeting Monday, when Bolten told senior White House aides to be prepared for personnel changes in the coming days to "refresh and re-energize" the Bush administration. (Full story)

Portman, 50, was appointed trade representative by Bush in April of last year. He also served as associate counsel to the president and director of the White House office of Legislative Affairs while George H.W. Bush was in the Oval Office.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab is expected to replace Portman, Bush said. Her nomination must also be approved by the Senate.

According to Reuters, James Towey, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiative, will leave the White House to become president of St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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