The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, D.C —
President Barack Obama has selected the head of the Wal-Mart Foundation as his budget director in the midst of a partisan battle over government spending.
Obama announced his selection of Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a native of Hinton, at the White House Monday, noting that she comes on as the government grapples with $85 billion in automatic cuts.
Obama also filled in more pieces of his second term leadership team Monday, nominating new advisers to lead the Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency. The president promoted current EPA official Gina McCarthy to lead the agency and MIT scientist Ernest Moniz to run the Energy Department.
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Speaking at a White House ceremony, Obama said Burwell not only knows how “to make the numbers add up” but to ignite middle class economic growth. He said Burwell and her team would face particular challenges as the so-called sequester cuts take hold, but said he was confident they would “do everything in their power to blunt the impact of these cuts on businesses and middle class families.”
Burwell is a graduate of Harvard and Oxford and a Rhodes scholar, Burwell has most recently served as president of the Wal-Mart Foundation. If her nomination is approved by Congress she will become the second woman to hold the post of the nation's budget chief.
She is the daughter of Dr. William and Cleo Mathews of Hinton.
Burwell is a Washington veteran, having served as OMB’s deputy director in the Clinton administration and chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. She currently runs the Wal-Mart Foundation, the retail giant’s philanthropic wing, and previously served as president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program.
"Sylvia knows her way around a budget," Obama said. "But as 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, and that is a strong growing middle class, to offer ladders of opportunity for anybody willing to climb them."
The White House official credited Burwell with being a principal architect of a series of budget plans in the 1990s that led to a budget surplus.
Wal-Mart president Mike Duke called Burwell a strong leader with a “clear vision for making big things happen.”
“She understands business and the role that business, government and civil society must play to build a strong economy that provides opportunity and strengthens communities across the country,” Duke said in a statement.
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Moniz, 68, oversees MIT’s Energy Initiative, a research group that focuses on innovative ways to produce power while curbing greenhouse gas emissions. But unlike outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu, he is also well-versed in the ways of Washington, having served as the Energy Department’s undersecretary in the Clinton administration.
Moniz has also advised Obama on central components of the administration’s energy plan, including a retooling of the country’s stalled nuclear waste program, energy research and development, and unconventional gas.
In nominating McCarthy to be the nation’s top environmental steward, Obama is promoting a climate change champion and a 25-year veteran of environmental policy and politics. McCarthy has served under both Republicans and Democrats, and is known for a matter-of-fact approach appreciated by both businesses and environmental advocacy groups.
Among her past bosses: former Massachusetts governor and Obama’s Republican presidential opponent Mitt Romney, for whom she was a special adviser on climate and environmental issues.
Since coming to Washington in 2009, McCarthy has been the most prominent defender of EPA policies. As the head of the air pollution division, she has been behind many of the agency’s most controversial new rules — from placing the first limits on greenhouse gases on newly built power plants to the first-ever standard for toxic mercury pollution from burning coal for electricity.
All three nominees announced Monday must be confirmed by the Senate.