Obama Nominates Walmart’s Burwell as Budget Chief

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — Tapping two candidates with a strong mix of business and governmental experience for Cabinet posts, President Barack Obama is naming women to two of the potentially toughest jobs in Washington — director of the Office of Management and Budget, and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He also named an MIT scientist with government experience as his nominee to be energy secretary.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who was nominated Monday for the OMB position, is the head of the Walmart Foundation, the retail chain’s charitable organization. If confirmed by the Senate, she would assume a Cabinet-rank position as head of the White House agency that has the herculean task of advising the president on budget matters.

Gina McCarthy, currently an assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, could also potentially step into the political hot seat as head of the agency, which has frequently clashed with Republican lawmakers.

Obama also announced on Monday that he was nominating physicist Ernest Moniz to lead the Energy Department.

Burwell would join a growing number of Clinton administration officials, including newly confirmed Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and former OMB director Peter Orszag, who have gone on to work for the Obama administration. She served as deputy director of OMB and chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin during the Clinton administration.

The stakes for the director of OMB are especially high now, with Obama engaged in a protracted, heated battle with the Republican-led House of Representatives about the size and shape of the federal government’s budget.

The two sides have failed to reach an agreement to avert mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts — to the tune of $85 billion through the next seven months of the current fiscal year — that took effect Friday. In addition, a possible government shutdown looms at the end of this month.

“I’m confident that my nominee for OMB director, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, is the right person to continue Jeff’s great work,” Obama said, referring to Jeff Zients, the acting director of OMB. “In the 1990s … Sylvia served under Jack Lew as deputy director of OMB, part of the team that presided over three budget surpluses in a row. Later she helped the Gates Foundation grow into a global force for good, and then she helped the Walmart Foundation expand its charitable work. So Sylvia knows her way around a budget.”

McCarthy would succeed former EPA chief Lisa Jackson, who announced her plans to step down in late December. During Jackson’s tenure, she was repeatedly forced to defend herself and her agency during congressional hearings over new federal standards on toxic pollutants and mercury emissions from coal power plants.

Jackson also vigorously defended her agency against a 2010 bill that would have stopped the EPA from regulating carbon emissions. She wrote a column where she accused the bill’s backers of siding with “big oil companies and their lobbyists” in an effort to “take away EPA’s ability to protect the health and welfare of Americans from greenhouse gas pollution.”

The bill was defeated in the Senate.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, GOP candidate Mitt Romney accused Jackson and two other Obama appointees of pursuing policies that drive up gasoline prices. He called for her firing.

McCarthy’s choice is thought to signal Obama’s plans to make climate change a larger part of his environmental agenda during his second term. The president made headlines when he made the issue a key subject in his inauguration address this year.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he said.

Environmental advocates applauded the choice.

“Gina McCarthy is a strong choice for EPA administrator — she’s worked for and with both sides of the aisle to forge common-sense and science-based solutions to protect children, seniors, and the public health from dangerous pollution. She has a strong background in working with business, conservationists, public health officials, and other leaders — they know her and know what to expect from her,” Carol Browner, a senior fellow for the Center for American Progress, former EPA administrator and former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, said in a statement.

In her 25-year career, McCarthy has worked at the state and local levels, including time as commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, before coming to the federal level.

McCarthy has also worked for Republican governors, including Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, where she once directed Romney’s environmental policy.

“I played a pretty good role in trying to get Gov. Romney to finally sign the Massachusetts climate change action plan,” she told CNN’s Jim Acosta last March during the Republican primary.

Along the same lines, Obama has tapped Moniz to lead the Energy Department. Moniz has served on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1973, with a research focus on energy technology and policy.

Moniz also has also worked at the federal level, serving as undersecretary of the Department of Energy from 1997 to January 2001, where he focused on nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship and was the secretary’s special negotiator for Russian nuclear materials disposition programs. Other work includes his time as associate director for science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President from 1995 to 1997.

“Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water, and our climate,” the president said. ” And so I could not be more pleased to have Ernie join us, and he will be joined in that effort by my nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.”

CNN’s Kevin Bohn and Greg Botelho contributed to this report

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